On inferring extinction laws in z ~ 6 quasars as signatures of supernova dust

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Unusual extinction curves of high-redshift QSOs have been taken as evidence that dust is primarily produced by supernovae at high redshift. In particular, the 3000 Å Todini-Ferrara-Maiolino kink in the extinction curve of the z = 6.20 SDSS J1048+4637 has been attributed to supernova dust. Here we discuss the challenges in inferring robust extinction curves of high-redshift QSOs and critically assess previous claims of detection of supernova dust. In particular, we address the sensitivity to the choice of intrinsic QSO spectrum, the need for a long wavelength baseline, and the drawbacks in fitting theoretical extinction curves. In a sample of 21 QSOs at z ~ 6 we detect significant ultraviolet extinction using existing broadband optical, near-infrared, and Spitzer photometry. The median extinction curve is consistent with a Small Magellanic Cloud curve with A ~ 0.7 mag and does not exhibit any conspicuous (rest frame) 2175 Å or 3000 Å features. For two QSOs, SDSS J1044-0125 at z = 5.78 and SDSS J1030+0524 at z = 6.31, we further present X-shooter spectra covering the wavelength range 0.9-2.5 µm. The resulting non-parametric extinction curves do not exhibit the 3000 Å kink. Finally, in a re-analysis of literature spectra of SDSS J1048+4637, we do not find evidence for a conspicuous kink. We conclude that the existing evidence for a 3000 Å feature is weak and that the overall dust properties at high and low redshifts show no significant differences. This, however, does not preclude supernovae from dominating the dust budget at high redshift.
Original languageEnglish
Article number173
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Volume768
Issue number2
ISSN0004-637X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2013

ID: 45773091