Tracking SMBH mergers from kpc to sub-pc scales with AXIS





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Pairs of active galactic nuclei (AGN) are observational flags of merger-driven SMBH growth, and represent an observable link between galaxy mergers and gravitational wave (GW) events. Thus, studying these systems across their various evolutionary phases can help quantify the role mergers play in the growth of SMBHs as well as future GW signals expected to be detected by pulsar timing arrays (PTAs). At the earliest stage, the system can be classified as a "dual AGN" where the SMBHs are gravitationally unbound and have typical separations <30 kpc, and at the latest stage the system can be classified as a "binary AGN" where the two massive host galaxies have likely been interacting for hundreds of megayears to gigayears. However, detecting and confirming pairs of AGN is non-trivial, and is complicated by the unique characteristics of merger-environments. To date, there are less than 50 X-ray confirmed dual AGN and only 1 strong binary AGN candidate. AXIS will revolutionize the field of dual AGN: the point-spread-function (PSF), field-of-view (FOV), and effective area (Aeff) are expected to result in the detection of hundreds to thousands of new dual AGN across the redshift range 0 < z < 4. The AXIS AGN surveys will result in the first X-ray study that quantifies the frequency of dual AGN as a function of redshift up to z = 3.5.