AGN Spectroscopy

The AGN Search

The evolution of galaxies since the Big Bang is a very active area of research in astronomy. Quasars, radio galaxies, and other types of “active galaxies” are the most luminous objects in the Universe. What is the source of their power? We now know that supermassive black holes in the nuclei of these galaxies is the source of the energy (AGN is an acronym for “active galactic nuclei”). These energetic galaxies were abundant in the early history of the universe, but fewer remain today. What happened to them? Astronomers now think that all large galaxies were at one time active, and their source of energy faded. The properties of these objects give clues to understanding how galaxies first formed, and how they eventually became galaxies like our own.

In this project, you will analyze spectra of active galaxies taken with a 2.1 meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. You will classify your spectra to see if your objects are quasars, radio galaxies, or perhaps something unexpected. You will then use these data to address other questions such as: are quasars more numerous than radio galaxies? Are they more or less luminous? You will be observing and classifying these objects for the first time and adding your results to a data set used by professional astronomers.

The AGN Spectroscopy project requires a good understanding of how the technique of spectroscopy works. You are therefore strongly encouraged to first work through the stellar spectroscopy project included below. To complete this you will need:

Once you have worked though the spectroscopy project and understand the analysis of spectra you can continue with AGN spectra project. Again, you will need Graphical analysis 3.0

Download this document on the spectra of AGN [5.94 MB pdf]. This contains the background material you need for this project.

Download the data [504 KB]

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The Astronomy RBSE program is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory with funds from the National Science Foundation.