Black holes at the centers of nearby dwarf galaxies

Edward C. Moran, Karlen Shahinyan, Hannah R. Sugarman, Darik O. Vélez, Michael Eracleous

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111 Scopus citations


Using a distance-limited portion of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS ) Data Release 7, we have identified 28 active galactic nuclei (AGNs) in nearby (d ≤ 80 Mpc) low-mass, low-luminosity dwarf galaxies. The accreting objects at the galaxy centers are expected to be intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) with MBH ≤ 106 M. The AGNs were selected using several optical emission-line diagnostics after careful modeling of the continuum present in the spectra. We have limited our survey to objects with spectral characteristics similar to those of Seyfert nuclei, excluding emission-line galaxies with ambiguous spectra that could be powered by stellar processes. Thus, as a set, the host galaxies in our sample are the least massive objects in the very local universe certain to contain central black holes. Our sample is dominated by narrow-line (type 2) AGNs, and it appears to have a much lower fraction of broad-line objects than that observed for luminous, optically selected Seyfert galaxies. Given our focus on the nearest objects included in the SDSS, our survey is more sensitive to low-luminosity emission than previous optical searches for AGNs in low-mass galaxies. The [O III] λ5007 luminosities of the Seyfert nuclei in our sample have a median value of L5007 = 2 × 105 L and extend down to ∼104 L. Using published data for broad-line IMBH candidates, we have derived an [O III] bolometric correction of log (Lbol/L5007) = 3.0 ± 0.3, which is significantly lower than values obtained for high-luminosity AGNs. Applying this correction to our sample, we obtain minimum black hole mass estimates that fall mainly in the 103 M-104M range, which is roughly where the predicted mass functions for different black hole seed formation scenarios overlap the most. In the stellar mass range that includes the bulk of the AGN host galaxies in our sample, we derive a lower limit on the AGN fraction of a few percent, indicating that active nuclei in dwarf galaxies are not as rare as previously thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number136
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


  • Galaxies: Seyfert
  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: dwarf


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