Site Map

Broad Absorption Line (BAL) Quasar Variability Survey


Spectra for broad absorption lines (BAL) quasars in a 5740 deg2 survey area

Finding Targets

An object whose ANCILLARY_TARGET1 value include one or more of the bitmasks in the following table was targeted for spectroscopy as part of this ancillary target program. See SDSS-III bitmasks to learn how to use these values to identify objects in this ancillary target program.

(bit name)
Bit Target Description Target density
FBQSBAL 15 Broad absorption line (BAL) quasar with spectrum from the FIRST Bright Quasar Survey (FBQS) 0.003
LBQSBAL 16 Broad absorption line (BAL) quasar with spectrum from the Large Bright Quasar Survey (LBQS) 0.002
ODDBAL 17 Broad absorption line (BAL) quasar with various unusual properties 0.007
OTBAL 18 Photometrically-selected overlapping-trough (OT) broad absorption line (BAL) quasar 0.003
PREVBAL 19 Broad absorption line (BAL) quasar with prior spectrum from SDSS-I/-II 0.004
VARBAL 20 Photometrically-selected candidate broad absorption line (BAL) quasar 0.35


Thousands of broad absorption line (BAL) quasars were discovered in the SDSS-I and SDSS-II (e.g. Gibson et al. 2009). In some cases, repeat spectroscopy showed variable absorption, providing clues to the nature of the BAL phenomenon (e.g., Lundgren et al. 2007; Gibson et al. 2008; Gibson et al. 2010). Returning with BOSS to obtain repeat spectra for a much-larger sample of these quasars allows for large-scale study of BAL variability on multi-year timescales in the rest frame. The resulting data provide insight into the dynamics, structure, and energetics of quasar winds.

The first science results from this ancillary project have been submitted to ApJ (Filiz et al. submitted).

Primary contact

Niel Brandt
Pennsylvania State University
neil -at-

Other contacts

Donald Schneider

Target Selection Details

Targets for this ancillary project were selected before the decision was made to re-target known quasars at z > 2.15 in the BOSS Quasar target selection algorithm; thus there is some overlap between these two samples. However, this ancillary project does provide many unique targets at z < 2.15.

The main sample of BAL quasars chosen for study contains 2,005 objects assigned the ancillary target flag VARBAL; this sample is about two orders of magnitude larger than those previously used to investigate BAL variability on multi-year timescales. These 2,005 objects were selected to be optically bright (iPSF < 19.28 with no correction for extinction), and to have at least moderately strong absorption in one of their BAL troughs (with a "balnicity index" of BI0 > 100 km/s as measured by Gibson et al. 2009).

In addition, only quasars in redshift ranges such that strong BAL transitions are fully covered by the SDSS-I/-II/BOSS spectra (from outflow velocities of 0-25000 km/s) were included; see Section 4 of Gibson et al. 2009 for further explanation.

The corresponding redshift ranges are 1.96 < z < 5.55 for Si IV BALs, 1.68 < z < 4.93 for C IV BALs, 1.23 < z < 3.93 for Al III BALs, and 0.48 < z < 2.28 for Mg II BALs. Finally, for those objects in the Gibson et al. (2009) catalog that have measurements of the signal-to-noise ratio at rest-frame 1700 Å (SN1700), we require SN1700 > 6; this criterion ensures that high-quality SDSS/SDSS-II spectra are available for these targets.

In addition to the primary sample objects described above as VARBAL, the BAL quasar variability survey also targets 102 additional BAL quasars selected through other target selection approaches. These targets may violate one or more of the selection criteria used for the VARBAL targets, but they have been identified as worthy of new observations nonetheless.

The relevant source types for these additional BAL quasars are the following:


Gibson, R.R., Brandt, W.N., Schneider, D.P., & Gallagher, S.C., 2008, AJ, 675, 985, doi:10.1086/527462
Gibson, R.R., Jiang, L., Brandt, W.N., Hall, P.B., Shen, Y., Wu, J., Anderson, S.F., Schneider, D.P., Vanden Berk, D., Gallagher, S.C., Fan, X., & York, D.G., 2009, AJ, 692, 758, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/692/1/758
Gibson, R.R., Brandt, W.N., Gallagher, S.C., Hewett, P.C., & Schneider, D.P., 2010, ApJ, 713, 200, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/713/1/220
Hall, P.B., et al., 2002, ApJS, 141, 267, doi:10.1086/340546
Hewett, P.C., Foltz, C.B. & Chaffee, F.H., 1995, AJ, 109, 1498
Lundgren, B.F., Wilhite, B.C., Brunner, R.J., Hall, P.B., Schneider, D.P., York, D.G., Vanden Berk, D.E., & Brinkmann, J., 2007, AJ, 656, 73, doi:10.1086/510202
White, R.L., Becker, R.H., Gregg, M.D., Laurent-Muehleisen, S.A., Brotherton, M.S., Impey, C.D., Petry, C.E., Foltz, C.B., Chaffee, F.H., Richards, G.T., Oegerle, W.R., Helfand, D.J., McMahon, R.G., & Cabanela, J.E., 2000, ApJS, 126, 133, doi:10.1086/313300