Spitzer mid-infrared spectroscopy of compact symmetric objects: What powers radio-loud active galactic nuclei?

Kyle W. Willett, John T. Stocke, Jeremy Darling, Eric S. Perlman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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We present low- and high-resolution mid-infrared (mid-IR) spectra and photometry for eight compact symmetric objects (CSOs) taken with the Infrared Spectrograph on the Spitzer Space Telescope. The hosts of these young, powerful radio galaxies show significant diversity in their mid-IR spectra. This includes multiple atomic fine-structure lines, H2 gas, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emission, warm dust from T = 50to150 K, and silicate features in both emission and absorption. There is no evidence in the mid-IR of a single template for CSO hosts, but 5/8 galaxies show similar moderate levels of star formation (<10 M yr-1 from PAH emission) and silicate dust in a clumpy torus. The total amount of extinction ranges from AV ∼ 10 to 30, and the high-ionization [Ne V] 14.3 and 24.3 μm transitions are not detected for any galaxy in the sample. Almost all CSOs show contributions both from star formation and active galactic nuclei (AGNs), suggesting that they occupy a continuum between pure starbursts and AGNs. This is consistent with the hypothesis that radio galaxies are created following a galactic merger; the timing of the radio activity onset means that contributions to the IR luminosity from both merger-induced star formation and the central AGN are likely. Bondi accretion is capable of powering the radio jets for almost all CSOs in the sample; the lack of [Ne V] emission suggests an advection-dominated accretion flow mode as a possible candidate. Merging black holes (BHs) with M BH > 108 M likely exist in all of the CSOs in the sample; however, there is no direct evidence from these data that BH spin energy is being tapped as an alternative mode for powering the radio jets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1393-1412
Number of pages20
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: jets
  • Infrared: galaxies
  • Radio continuum: galaxies


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