Close encounters between galaxies are expected to be a viable mechanism, as predicted by numerical simulations, by which accretion onto supermassive black holes can be initiated. To test this scenario, we construct a sample of 562 galaxies (M * > 2.5 × 1010 M ⊙) in kinematic pairs over the redshift range 0.25 < z < 1.05 that are more likely to be interacting than a well-matched control sample of 2726 galaxies not identified as being in a pair, both from the zCOSMOS 20k spectroscopic catalog. Galaxies that harbor an active galactic nucleus (AGN) are identified on the basis of their X-ray emission (L 0.5-10 keV > 2 × 1042ergs-1) detected by Chandra. We find a higher fraction of an AGN in galaxies in pairs relative to isolated galaxies of similar stellar mass. Our result is primarily due to an enhancement of AGN activity, by a factor of 1.9 (observed) and 2.6 (intrinsic), for galaxies in pairs of projected separation less than 75kpc and line-of-sight velocity offset less than 500kms-1. This study demonstrates that close kinematic pairs are conducive environments for black hole growth, either indicating a causal physical connection or an inherent relation, such as, to enhanced star formation. In the Appendix, we describe a method for estimating the intrinsic fractions of galaxies (either in pairs or the field) hosting an AGN with confidence intervals, and an excess fraction in pairs. We estimate that 17.8+8.4 -7.4% of all moderate-luminosity AGN activity takes place within galaxies undergoing early stages of interaction that leaves open the question as to what physical processes are responsible for fueling the remaining 80% that may include late-stage mergers.
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