A systematic search for changing-look quasars in SDSS-II using difference spectra

B. Potts, C. Villforth

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Context. Changing-look quasars (CLQs) are active galactic nuclei (AGN) showing extreme variability that results in a transition from type 1 to type 2 AGN. The short timescales of these transitions present a challenge to the unified model of AGN and the physical processes causing these transitions remain poorly understood. CLQs also provide interesting samples for the study of AGN host galaxies since the central emission disappears almost entirely. Aims. Previous searches for CLQs have utilised photometric variability or SDSS classification changes to systematically identify CLQs; this approach may miss lower luminosity CLQs. In this paper, we aim to use spectroscopic data to asses if analysis difference spectra can be used to detect further CLQs that have been missed by photometric searches. Methods. We searched SDSS-II DR 7 repeat spectra for sources that exhibit either a disappearance or appearance of both broad line emission and accretion disc continuum emission by directly analysing the difference spectrum between two epochs of observation. Results. From a sample of 24 782 objects with difference spectra, our search yielded six CLQs within the redshift range 0:1 6 z - 0:3, including four newly identified sources. Spectral analysis indicates that changes in the accretion rate can explain the changing-look behaviour. While a change in dust extinction fits the changes in the spectral shape, the timescales of the changes observed are too short for obscuration from torus clouds. Conclusions. Using difference spectra was shown to be an effective and sensitive way to detect CLQs. We recover CLQs an order of magnitude lower in luminosities than those found by photometric searches and achieve higher completeness than spectroscopic searches relying on pipeline classification.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA33
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. We thank the anonymous referee for helpful comments. We acknowledge Benjamin Pickford for his contribution to developing the sample selection method and confirming the six CLQs in the sample. Funding for the SDSS and SDSS-II has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, the Max Planck Society, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The SDSS Web Site is http://www.sdss.org/. The SDSS is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions. The Participating Institutions are the American Museum of Natural History, Astrophysical Institute Potsdam, University of Basel, University of Cambridge, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, Drexel University, Fermilab, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Japan Participation Group, Johns Hopkins University, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics, the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, the Korean Scientist Group, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (LAMOST), Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy (MPIA), the Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics (MPA), New Mexico State University, Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Portsmouth, Princeton University, the United States Naval Observatory, and the University of Washington.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 EDP Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Accretion
  • Accretion disks
  • Galaxies: active

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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