We present the first detections of the 3 μm water ice and 3.4 μm amorphous hydrocarbon (HAC) absorption features in z ~ 2 ULIRGs. These are based on deep rest-frame 2-8 μm Spitzer Infrared Spectrograph spectra of 11 sources selected for their appreciable silicate absorption. The HAC-to-silicate ratio for our z ~ 2 sources is typically higher by a factor of 2-5 than that observed in the Milky Way. This HAC “excess” suggests compact nuclei with steep temperature gradients as opposed to predominantly host obscuration. Beside the above molecular absorption features, we detect the 3.3 μm polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emission feature in one of our sources with three more individual spectra showing evidence for it. Stacking analysis suggests that water ice, hydrocarbons, and PAH are likely present in the bulk of this sample even when not individually detected. The most unexpected result of our study is the lack of clear detections of the 4.67 μm CO gas absorption feature. Only three of the sources show tentative signs of this feature at significantly lower levels than has been observed in local ULIRGs. Overall we find that the closest local analogs to our sources, in terms of 3-4 μm color, HAC-to-silicate and ice-to-silicate ratios, as well as low PAH equivalent widths, are sources dominated by deeply obscured nuclei. Such sources form only a small fraction of ULIRGs locally and are commonly believed to be dominated by buried active galactic nuclei (AGNs). Our sample suggests that, in an absolute number, such buried AGNs are at least an order of magnitude more common at z ~ 2 than today. The presence of PAH suggests that significant levels of star formation are present even if the obscured AGNs typically dominate the power budget.

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Published in The Astrophysical Journal, v. 703, no. 1, p. 270-284.

© 2009. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

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