Dark Energy Survey identification of a low-mass active galactic nucleus at redshift 0.823 from optical variability

DES Collaboration, Hengxiao Guo, Colin J. Burke, Xin Liu, Kedar A. Phadke, Kaiwen Zhang, Yu Ching Chen, Robert A. Gruendl, Christopher Lidman, Yue Shen, Eric Morganson, Michel Aguena, Sahar Allam, Santiago Avila, Emmanuel Bertin, David Brooks, Aurelio Carnero Rosell, Daniela Carollo, Matias Carrasco Kind, Matteo CostanziLuiz N. da Costa, Juan De Vicente, Shantanu Desai, Peter Doel, Tim F. Eifler, Spencer Everett, Juan García-Bellido, Enrique Gaztanaga, David W. Gerdes, Daniel Gruen, Julia Gschwend, Gaston Gutierrez, Samuel R. Hinton, Devon L. Hollowood, Klaus Honscheid, David J. James, Kyler Kuehn, Marcos Lima, Marcio A. G. Maia, Felipe Menanteau, Ramon Miquel, Anais Möller, Ricardo L. C. Ogando, Antonella Palmese, Francisco Paz-Chinchón, Andrés A. Plazas, Anita K. Romer, Aaron Roodman, Eusebio Sanchez, Vic Scarpine, Michael Schubnell, Santiago Serrano, Mathew Smith, Marcelle Soares-Santos, Natalia E. Sommer, Eric Suchyta, Molly E.C. Swanson, Gregory Tarle, Brad E. Tucker, Tamas N. Varga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report the identification of a low-mass active galactic nucleus (AGN), DES J0218-0430, in a redshift z = 0.823 galaxy in the Dark Energy Survey (DES) Supernova field. We select DES J0218-0430 as an AGN candidate by characterizing its long-term optical variability alone based on DES optical broad-band light curves spanning over 6 yr. An archival optical spectrum from the fourth phase of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey shows both broad Mg II and broad Hβ lines, confirming its nature as a broad-line AGN. Archival XMM-Newton X-ray observations suggest an intrinsic hard X-ray luminosity of L2-12 keV ≈ 7.6 ± 0.4 × 1043 erg s-1, which exceeds those of the most X-ray luminous starburst galaxies, in support of an AGN driving the optical variability. Based on the broad Hβ from SDSS spectrum, we estimate a virial black hole (BH) mass of M. ≈ 106.43-106.72M⊙ (with the error denoting the systematic uncertainty from different calibrations), consistent with the estimation from OzDES, making it the lowest mass AGN with redshift > 0.4 detected in optical. We estimate the host galaxy stellar mass to be M* ≈1010.5 ± 0.3M⊙ based on modelling the multiwavelength spectral energy distribution. DES J0218-0430 extends the M-M* relation observed in luminous AGNs at z ∼ 1 to masses lower than being probed by previous work. Our work demonstrates the feasibility of using optical variability to identify low-mass AGNs at higher redshift in deeper synoptic surveys with direct implications for the upcoming Legacy Survey of Space and Time at Vera C. Rubin Observatory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3636-3647
Number of pages12
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
acknowledges support from the Illinois Graduate Survey Science Fellowship. YS acknowledges support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and NSF grant AST-1715579.

Funding Information:
Funding for DES Projects has been provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Ministry of Science and Education of Spain, the Science and Technology Facilities Council of the United Kingdom, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics at the Ohio State University, the Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University, Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos, Fundac¸ão Carlos Chagas Filho de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico and the Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovac¸ão, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Collaborating Institutions in the Dark Energy Survey.

Funding Information:
The DES data management system is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers AST-1138766 and AST-1536171. The DES participants from Spanish institutions are partially supported by MINECO under grants AYA2015-71825, ESP2015-66861, FPA2015-68048, SEV-2016-0588, SEV-2016-0597, and MDM-2015-0509, some of which include ERDF funds from the European Union. IFAE is partially funded by the CERCA program of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Frame-work Program (FP7/2007-2013) including ERC grant agreements 240672, 291329, and 306478. We acknowledge support from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO), through project number CE110001020, and the Brazilian Instituto Nacional de Ciênciae Tecnologia (INCT) e-Universe (CNPq grant 465376/2014-2).

Funding Information:
Based in part on observations at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

Funding Information:
This manuscript has been authored by Fermi Research Alliance, LLC under Contract No. DE-AC02-07CH11359 with the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of High Energy Physics. The United States Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the United States Government retains a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for United States Government purposes.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • black hole physics
  • surveys
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: nuclei
  • quasars: general

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