The nature of liner-like emission in red galaxies

Renbin Yan, Michael R. Blanton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Scopus citations


Passive red galaxies frequently contain warm ionized gas and have spectra similar to low-ionization nuclear emission-line regions (LINERs). Here we investigate the nature of the ionizing sources powering this emission, by comparing nuclear spectroscopy from the Palomar survey with larger aperture data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. We find the line emission in the majority of passive red galaxies is spatially extended; the Hα surface brightness profile depends on radius r as r -1.28. We detect strong line ratio gradients with radius in [N II]/Hα, [S II]/Hα, and [O III]/[S II], requiring the ionization parameter to increase outward. Combined with a realistic gas density profile, this outward increasing ionization parameter convincingly rules out active galactic nuclei (AGNs) as the dominant ionizing source and strongly favors distributed ionizing sources. Sources that follow the stellar density profile can additionally reproduce the observed luminosity dependence of the line ratio gradient. Post-asymptotic giant branch stars provide a natural ionization source candidate, though they have an ionization parameter deficit. Velocity width differences among different emission lines disfavor shocks as the dominant ionization mechanism, and suggest that the interstellar medium in these galaxies contains multiple components. We conclude that the line emission in most LINER-like galaxies found in large-aperture (>100pc) spectroscopy is not primarily powered by AGN activity and thus does not trace the AGN bolometric luminosity. However, they can be used to trace warm gas in these red galaxies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number61
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012


  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • stars: AGB and post-AGB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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