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Workshop: Machine Learning and the Physical Sciences

Identifying AGN host galaxies with convolutional neural networks

Ziting Guo · John Wu · Chelsea Sharon


Active galactic nuclei (AGN) are supermassive black holes with luminous accretion disks found in some galaxies, and are thought to play an important role in galaxy evolution. However, traditional optical spectroscopy for identifying AGN requires time-intensive observations. We train a convolutional neural network (CNN) to distinguish AGN host galaxies from non-active galaxies using a sample of 210,000 Sloan Digital Sky Survey galaxies. We test the CNN on 33,000 galaxies that are spectrally classified as composites, and find correlations between galaxy appearances and their CNN classifications, which hint at evolutionary processes that effect both galaxy morphology and AGN activity. With the advent of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, and other wide-field imaging telescopes, deep learning methods will be instrumental for quickly and reliably shortlisting AGN samples for future analyses.

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