The role of starburst-active galactic nucleus composites in luminous infrared galaxy mergers: Insights from the new optical classification scheme

T. T. Yuan*, L. J. Kewley, D. B. Sanders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We investigate the fraction of starbursts, starburst-active galactic nucleus (AGN) composites, Seyferts, and low-ionization narrow emission-line region galaxies (LINERs) as a function of infrared luminosity (LIR) and merger progress for ∼500 infrared (IR)-selected galaxies. Using the new optical classifications afforded by the extremely large data set of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, we find that the fraction of LINERs in IR-selected samples is rare (<5%) compared with other spectral types. The lack of strong IR emission in LINERs is consistent with recent optical studies suggesting that LINERs contain AGN with lower accretion rates than in Seyfert galaxies. Most previously classified IR-luminous LINERs are classified as starburst-AGN composite galaxies in the new scheme. Starburst-AGN composites appear to "bridge" the spectral evolution from starburst to AGN in ULIRGs. The relative strength of the AGN versus starburst activity shows a significant increase at high IR luminosity. In ULIRGs (LIR > 1012 L), starburst-AGN composite galaxies dominate at early-intermediate stages of the merger, and AGN galaxies dominate during the final merger stages. Our results are consistent with models for IR-luminous galaxies where mergers of gas-rich spirals fuel both starburst and AGN, and where the AGN becomes increasingly dominant during the final merger stages of the most luminous IR objects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)884-911
Number of pages28
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume709
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes

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