Published in Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 41, No. 1, p. 61-115, 2013.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1302.2643

For a PDF version of the article, click here.

THE MASS OF QUASARS *

Yue Shen 1,2


1 Carnegie Observatories, 813 Santa Barbara Street, Pasadena, CA 91101, USA
2 Hubble Fellow


Abstract: I review the current status of quasar black hole (BH) mass estimations. Spectroscopic methods have been developed to estimate BH mass in broad line quasars to an accuracy of ~ 0.5 dex. Despite their popularity, significant issues and confusion remain regarding these mass estimators. I provide an in-depth discussion on the merits and caveats of the single-epoch (SE) virial BH mass estimators, and a detailed derivation of the statistical biases of these SE mass estimates resulting from their errors. I show that error-induced sample biases on the order of a factor of several are likely present in the SE mass estimates for flux-limited, statistical quasar samples, and the distribution of SE masses in finite luminosity bins can be narrower than the nominal uncertainty of these mass estimates. I then discuss the latest applications of SE virial masses in quasar studies, including the early growth of supermassive black holes, quasar demography in the mass-luminosity plane, and the evolution of the BH-host scaling relations, with specific emphases on selection effects and sample biases in the SE masses. I conclude that there is a pressing need to understand and deal with the errors in these BH mass estimates, and to improve these BH weighing methods with substantially more and better reverberation mapping data.


Keywords : black hole physics — galaxies: active — quasars:general — surveys


Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

METHODS TO MEASURE QUASAR BH MASSES
Virial BH Masses: From Reverberation Mapping to Single-Epoch Methods
Other Methods to Estimate Quasar BH Masses

CAVEATS, UNCERTAINTIES, AND BIASES OF VIRIAL BH MASSES
Physical Concerns
Practical Concerns
Consequences of the Uncertainties in SE Mass Estimates

APPLICATIONS TO STATISTICAL QUASAR SAMPLES
Early Growth of SMBHs
Quasar Demographics in the Mass-Luminosity Plane
Evolution of BH-Bulge Scaling Relations

SUMMARY AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES

REFERENCES



* In this review I use the terms "quasar" and "Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN)" interchangeably to refer to all active supermassive black holes, although traditionally quasars are loosely defined as the luminous (Lbol gtapprox 1012 Lodot) subset of AGNs. By default I use quasars and AGNs to refer to unobscured (Type 1), broad-line objects unless otherwise specified.

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