Ultraluminous infrared galaxies: QSOs in formation?

L. J. Tacconi, R. Genzel, D. Lutz, D. Rigopoulou, A. J. Baker, C. Iserlohe, M. Tecza

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160 Scopus citations


We present new near-infrared (NIR) Keck and Very Large Telescope (VLT) spectroscopic data on the stellar dynamics in late-stage, ultraluminous infrared galaxy (ULIRG) mergers. We now have information on the structural and kinematic properties of 18 ULIRGs, eight of which contain QSO-like active galactic nuclei (AGNs). The host properties (σ, reff, μ eff, MK) of AGN-dominated and star formation dominated ULIRGs are similar. ULIRGs fall remarkably close to the fundamental plane of early-type galaxies. They populate a wide range of the plane, are on average similar to L* rotating ellipticals, but are well offset from giant ellipticals and optically/UV-bright, low-z QSOs/radio galaxies. ULIRGs and local QSOs/radio galaxies are very similar in their distributions of bolometric and extinction-corrected NIR luminosities, but ULIRGs have smaller effective radii and velocity dispersions than the local QSO/radio galaxy population. Hence, their host masses and inferred black hole masses are correspondingly smaller. The latter are more akin to those of local Seyfert galaxies. ULIRGs thus resemble local QSOs in their NIR and bolometric luminosities because they are (much more) efficiently forming stars and/or feeding their black holes, and not because they have QSO-like, very massive black holes. We conclude that ULIRGs as a class cannot evolve into optically bright QSOs. They will more likely become quiescent, moderate mass field ellipticals or, when active, might resemble the X-ray-bright, early-type galaxies that have recently been found by the Chandra observatory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-87
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Nov 20 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: active
  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Infrared: galaxies
  • Quasars: general


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