Archive by Author | ec2250

Stellar Populations of Quiescent Barred Galaxies Paper Accepted!

A new paper using Galaxy Zoo 2 bar classification has recently been accepted!

In this paper (which can be found here:, we use hundreds of SDSS spectra to study the types of stars, i.e., stellar populations, that make up barred and unbarred galaxies. The reason for this study is that simulations predict that bars should affect the stellar populations of their host galaxies. And while there have been numerous studies that have addressed this issue, there still is no consensus.

A graphic summary of this study is shown here:


In this study, we stack hundreds of quiescent, i.e., non-star-forming, barred and unbarred galaxies in bins of redshift and stellar mass to produce extremely high-quality spectra. The center-left panel shows our parent sample in grey, and the cyan and green hash marks represent our galaxy selection for our bulge and gradient analysis. The black rectangle represents one of the bins we use. The upper and lower plots show the resultant stacked spectra of the barred and unbarred galaxies, respectively. We show images of barred and unbarred galaxies in the center, selected with the Galaxy Zoo 2 classifications. Finally, the center-right panel shows the ratio of these two stacked spectra at several wavelengths that reflect certain stellar population parameters.

Our main result is shown here:


We plot several stellar population parameters as a function of stellar mass for barred and unbarred galaxies. Specifically, we plot the stellar age, which gives us an idea of the average age of a galaxy’s stars, stellar metallicity ([Fe/H]), which gives us an idea of the relative amount of elements heavier than hydrogen in a galaxy, alpha-abundance ([Mg/Fe]), which gives us an idea of the timescale it took to form a galaxy’s stars, and nitrogen abundance ([N/Fe]), which also gives us an idea of the timescale it took to form a galaxy’s stars.

The main result of our study is that there are no statistically significant differences in the stellar populations of quiescent barred and unbarred galaxies. Our results suggest that bars are not a strong influence on the chemical evolution of quiescent galaxies, which seems to be at odds with the predictions.

New Galaxy Zoo Paper Accepted For Publication!

A paper that uses Galaxy Zoo: Hubble to study whether supermassive black holes are fueled by galaxy bars beyond the local universe has recently been accepted! The paper will be published in MNRAS, but for a short summary, here is the original blog post.

Galaxy Zoo: Are Bars Responsible for the Feeding of Supermasssive Black Holes Beyond the Local Universe?

Supermassive black holes are thought to reside in the centers of most galaxies. These massive objects can produce powerful jets of energy that may significantly influence the evolution of their host galaxies. While we believe that black holes have an important role in galaxy evolution, a crucial unknown aspect about black holes is how they are fueled and turn into active galactic nuclei (AGN).

Among the proposed black hole fueling processes, bar-driven secular evolution is among the most popular. Bars are linear structures of stars that stretch across the centers of galaxies. They are theorized to fuel black holes by driving gas from the outskirts of galaxies into the very centers, where supermassive black holes lie.

Previous studies have tested whether bars can fuel black holes by examining whether there is an excess of bars among AGN hosts compared to non-AGN hosts. For the most part, those works found that there was not a significant enhancement of bars among AGN hosts, leading them to conclude that bars do not fuel black holes. But almost all these previous works were limited to the local universe, i.e., in the present, where the number of AGN is the lowest across cosmic time.

In this work, we investigate whether there is an excess of bars among AGN hosts beyond the local universe, i.e., in the distant past, up to 7 billion years ago. In this epoch, the number of AGN hosts is much higher, giving us a better glimpse of the identity of the black hole fueling mechanism. To conduct this experiment, we created two samples: 1) a sample of AGN hosts and 2) a carefully constructed control sample of non-AGN hosts that are matched to the AGN hosts. In order to create the largest samples possible, our experiment utilized three of the most popular extragalactic surveys: AEGIS, COSMOS, and GOODS-S. With these samples, we used the Galaxy Zoo: Hubble bar classifications to identify barred galaxies. Below is a gallery of 6 sets of AGN and their corresponding control galaxies, 2 sets from each survey.


Our main results are shown in the figure below. We have two probes of bar presence—bar fraction (left) and bar likelihood (right)—for the AEGIS, COSMOS, and GOODS-S surveys.


We find no statistically significant enhancement in the bar fraction or the bar likelihood in AGN hosts (green squares) compared to the non-AGN hosts (purple triangles). Our results, combined with previous works at the local universe, indicate that bars are not the primary fueling mechanism for supermassive black hole growth for the last 7 billion years. Moreover, given the growth of supermassive black holes over cosmic time, our results imply that bars are not directly responsible for the buildup of at least half the local supermassive black hole mass density.

Therefore, although among the most popular fueling mechanisms, it seems that bars do not fuel black holes. However, this result does narrow the search for the real black hole fueling mechanism.