Searching for changing-state AGNs in massive datasets -- I: applying deep learning and anomaly detection techniques to find AGNs with anomalous variability behaviours

Sánchez-Sáez et al. 2021, AJ

The classic classification scheme for Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs) was recently challenged by the discovery of the so-called changing-state (changing-look) AGNs (CSAGNs). The physical mechanism behind this phenomenon is still a matter of open debate and the samples are too small and of serendipitous nature to provide robust answers. In order to tackle this problem, we need to design methods that are able to detect AGN right in the act of changing-state. Here we present an anomaly detection (AD) technique designed to identify AGN light curves with anomalous behaviors in massive datasets. The main aim of this technique is to identify CSAGN at different stages of the transition, but it can also be used for more general purposes, such as cleaning massive datasets for AGN variability analyses. We used light curves from the Zwicky Transient Facility data release 5 (ZTF DR5), containing a sample of 230,451 AGNs of different classes. The ZTF DR5 light curves were modeled with a Variational Recurrent Autoencoder (VRAE) architecture, that allowed us to obtain a set of attributes from the VRAE latent space that describes the general behaviour of our sample. These attributes were then used as features for an Isolation Forest (IF) algorithm, that is an anomaly detector for a "one class" kind of problem. We used the VRAE reconstruction errors and the IF anomaly score to select a sample of 8,809 anomalies. These anomalies are dominated by bogus candidates, but we were able to identify 75 promising CSAGN candidates.

Alert Classification for the ALeRCE Broker System: The Real-time Stamp Classifier

Carrasco-Davis et al. 2021, AJ

We present a real-time stamp classifier of astronomical events for the ALeRCE (Automatic Learning for the Rapid Classification of Events) broker. The classifier is based on a convolutional neural network with an architecture designed to exploit rotational invariance of the images, and trained on alerts ingested from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). Using only the science, reference and difference images of the first detection as inputs, along with the metadata of the alert as features, the classifier is able to correctly classify alerts from active galactic nuclei, supernovae (SNe), variable stars, asteroids and bogus classes, with high accuracy (∼94\%) in a balanced test set. In order to find and analyze SN candidates selected by our classifier from the ZTF alert stream, we designed and deployed a visualization tool called SN Hunter, where relevant information about each possible SN is displayed for the experts to choose among candidates to report to the Transient Name Server database. We have reported 3060 SN candidates to date (9.2 candidates per day on average), of which 394 have been confirmed spectroscopically. Our ability to report objects using only a single detection means that 92\% of the reported SNe occurred within one day after the first detection. ALeRCE has only reported candidates not otherwise detected or selected by other groups, therefore adding new early transients to the bulk of objects available for early follow-up. Our work represents an important milestone toward rapid alert classifications with the next generation of large etendue telescopes, such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory's Legacy Survey of Space and Time.

The Automatic Learning for the Rapid Classification of Events (ALeRCE) Alert Broker

Förster et al. 2021, AJ

We introduce the Automatic Learning for the Rapid Classification of Events (ALeRCE) broker, an astronomical alert broker designed to provide a rapid and self--consistent classification of large etendue telescope alert streams, such as that provided by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) and, in the future, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). ALeRCE is a Chilean--led broker run by an interdisciplinary team of astronomers and engineers, working to become intermediaries between survey and follow--up facilities. ALeRCE uses a pipeline which includes the real--time ingestion, aggregation, cross--matching, machine learning (ML) classification, and visualization of the ZTF alert stream. We use two classifiers: a stamp--based classifier, designed for rapid classification, and a light--curve--based classifier, which uses the multi--band flux evolution to achieve a more refined classification. We describe in detail our pipeline, data products, tools and services, which are made public for the community (see Since we began operating our real--time ML classification of the ZTF alert stream in early 2019, we have grown a large community of active users around the globe. We describe our results to date, including the real--time processing of 9.7×107 alerts, the stamp classification of 1.9×107 objects, the light curve classification of 8.5×105 objects, the report of 3088 supernova candidates, and different experiments using LSST-like alert streams. Finally, we discuss the challenges ahead to go from a single-stream of alerts such as ZTF to a multi--stream ecosystem dominated by LSST.

Alert Classification for the ALeRCE Broker System: The Light Curve Classifier

Sánchez-Sáez et al. 2021, AJ

We present the first version of the ALeRCE (Automatic Learning for the Rapid Classification of Events) broker light curve classifier. ALeRCE is currently processing the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) alert stream, in preparation for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. The ALeRCE light curve classifier uses variability features computed from the ZTF alert stream, and colors obtained from AllWISE and ZTF photometry. We apply a Balanced Hierarchical Random Forest algorithm with a two-level scheme, where the top level classifies each source as periodic, stochastic, or transient, and the bottom level further resolve each hierarchical class, yielding a total of 15 classes. This classifier corresponds to the first attempt to classify multiple classes of stochastic variables (including nucleus- and host-dominated active galactic nuclei, blazars, young stellar objects, and cataclysmic variables) in addition to different classes of periodic and transient sources, using real data. We created a labeled set using various public catalogs (such as the Catalina Surveys and {\em Gaia} DR2 variable stars catalogs, and the Million Quasars catalog), and we classify all objects with ≥6 g-band or ≥6 r-band detections in ZTF (868,371 sources as of 2020/06/09), providing updated classifications for sources with new alerts every day. For the top level we obtain macro-averaged precision and recall scores of 0.96 and 0.99, respectively, and for the bottom level we obtain macro-averaged precision and recall scores of 0.57 and 0.76, respectively. Updated classifications from the light curve classifier can be found at