Photometric redshifts and quasar probabilities from a single, data-driven generative model

Jo Bovy, Adam D. Myers, Joseph F. Hennawi, David W. Hogg, Richard G. McMahon, David Schiminovich, Erin S. Sheldon, Jon Brinkmann, Donald P. Schneider, Benjamin A. Weaver

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We describe a technique for simultaneously classifying and estimating the redshift of quasars. It can separate quasars from stars in arbitrary redshift ranges, estimate full posterior distribution functions for the redshift, and naturally incorporate flux uncertainties, missing data, and multi-wavelength photometry. We build models of quasars in flux-redshift space by applying the extreme deconvolution technique to estimate the underlying density. By integrating this density over redshift, one can obtain quasar flux densities in different redshift ranges. This approach allows for efficient, consistent, and fast classification and photometric redshift estimation. This is achieved by combining the speed obtained by choosing simple analytical forms as the basis of our density model with the flexibility of non-parametric models through the use of many simple components with many parameters. We show that this technique is competitive with the best photometric quasar classification techniques - which are limited to fixed, broad redshift ranges and high signal-to-noise ratio data - and with the best photometric redshift techniques when applied to broadband optical data. We demonstrate that the inclusion of UV and NIR data significantly improves photometric quasar-star separation and essentially resolves all of the redshift degeneracies for quasars inherent to the ugriz filter system, even when included data have a low signal-to-noise ratio. For quasars spectroscopically confirmed by the SDSS 84% and 97% of the objects with Galaxy Evolution Explorer UV and UKIDSS NIR data have photometric redshifts within 0.1 and 0.3, respectively, of the spectroscopic redshift; this amounts to about a factor of three improvement over ugriz-only photometric redshifts. Our code to calculate quasar probabilities and redshift probability distributions is publicly available.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number41
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Apr 10 2012


    • catalogs
    • cosmology: observations
    • galaxies: distances and redshifts
    • galaxies: photometry
    • methods: data analysis
    • quasars: general

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Space and Planetary Science


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