Binary Active Galactic Nuclei in Stripe 82: Constraints on Synchronized Black Hole Accretion in Major Mergers [GA]

Representing simultaneous black hole accretion during a merger, binary active galactic nuclei (AGNs) could provide valuable observational constraints to models of galaxy mergers and AGN triggering. High-resolution radio interferometer imaging offers a promising method to identify a large and uniform sample of binary AGNs, because it probes a generic feature of nuclear activity and is free from dust obscuration. Our previous search yielded 52 strong candidates of kpc-scale binaries over the 92 deg^2 of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Stripe 82 area with 2″-resolution Very Large Array (VLA) images. Here we present 0.3″-resolution VLA 6 GHz observations for six candidates that have complete optical spectroscopy. The new data confirm the binary nature of four candidates and identify the other two as line-of-sight projections of radio structures from single AGNs. The four binary AGNs at z ~ 0.1 reside in major mergers with projected separations of 4.2-12 kpc. Optical spectral modeling shows that their hosts have stellar masses between 10.3 < log(M_star/M_sun) < 11.5 and velocity dispersions between 120 < sigma_star < 320 km/s. The radio emission is compact (<0.4″) and show steep spectrum (-1.8 < alpha < -0.5) at 6 GHz. The host galaxy properties and the Eddington-scaled accretion rates broadly correlate with the excitation state, similar to the general radio-AGN population at low redshifts. Our estimated binary AGN fraction indicates that simultaneous accretion occurs >23^{+15}_{-8}% of the time when a kpc-scale galaxy pair is detectable as a radio-AGN. The high duty cycle of the binary phase strongly suggests that major mergers can trigger and synchronize black hole accretion.

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H. Fu, J. Wrobel, A. Myers, et. al.
Thu, 12 Nov 15

Comments: resubmitted to ApJ Letters