We use low resolution, near-IR spectra of eight of the most distant quasars known, with redshifts in the range 4.9<z<6.4, to investigate the gas and dust properties in their circumnuclear regions. Half of these quasars are characterized by deep, broad and blueshifted absorption features associated with both high and low ionization species, i.e. they belong to the class of Broad Absorption Line (BAL) quasars, which are associated with powerful outflows of dense gas. The large fraction of BAL quasars, the depth and ionization state of the absorption features suggest that these most distant quasars are surrounded by a much larger amount of dense gas than lower redshift (z<4) quasars. We discuss the possible interpretation of this result in terms of extremely high accretion rates and the association with the early formation of quasars.
The spectral shape of all these very distant quasars, and in particular of the BAL quasars, is bluer than for quasars at z<4, suggesting an evolution of the properties of the dust responsible for the quasar reddening. We show that the observed spectral shape can be explained by an extinction curve due to dust produced by SNe. This finding would address the problem of the dust production at z>6, when the age of the universe was lower than the evolutionary timescales of AGB stars.
Finally, these spectra allow to investigate the Fe/α-element abundance ratio, which is a tracer of the star formation history, through the relative strengths of the FeII UV bump and the MgII doublet. We find indications for a large abundance of Fe even in the most distant quasars at z∼6. This finding requires that a strong burst of star formation occurred in the hosts of these quasars already at z>9.To search for other articles by the author(s) go to: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abstract_service.html