Galaxy Zoo: ‘Hanny's Voorwerp’, a quasar light echo?

Chris J. Lintott, Kevin Schawinski, William Keel, Hanny Van Arkel, Nicola Bennert, Edward Edmondson, Daniel Thomas, Daniel J. B. Smith, Peter D. Herbert, Matt J. Jarvis, Shanil Virani, Dan Andreescu, Steven P. Bamford, Kate Land, Phil Murray, Robert C. Nichol, M. Jordan Raddick, Anze Slosar, Alex Szalay, Jan Vandenberg

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Abstract

We report the discovery of an unusual object near the spiral galaxy IC 2497, discovered by visual inspection of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) as part of the Galaxy Zoo project. The object, known as Hanny's Voorwerp, is bright in the SDSS g band due to unusually strong [O iii]4959, 5007 emission lines. We present the results of the first targeted observations of the object in the optical, ultraviolet and X-ray, which show that the object contains highly ionized gas. Although the line ratios are similar to extended emission-line regions near luminous active galactic nucleus (AGN), the source of this ionization is not apparent. The emission-line properties, and lack of X-ray emission from IC 2497, suggest either a highly obscured AGN with a novel geometry arranged to allow photoionization of the object but not the galaxy's own circumnuclear gas, or, as we argue, the first detection of a quasar light echo. In this case, either the luminosity of the central source has decreased dramatically or else the obscuration in the system has increased within 105 yr. This object may thus represent the first direct probe of quasar history on these time-scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-140
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume399
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2009

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