Polarization Diagnostics for Cool Core Cluster Emission Lines

W.B. Sparks, J. E. Pringle, R. F. Carswell, G.M. Voit, M. Donahue, M. Cracraft, E.T. Meyer, J.H. Hough, N. Manset

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The nature of the interaction between low-excitation gas filaments at ~104 K, seen in optical line emission, and diffuse X-ray emitting coronal gas at ~107 K in the centers of galaxy clusters remains a puzzle. The presence of a strong, empirical correlation between the two gas phases is indicative of a fundamental relationship between them, though as yet of undetermined cause. The cooler filaments, originally thought to have condensed from the hot gas, could also arise from a merger or the disturbance of cool circumnuclear gas by nuclear activity. Here, we have searched for intrinsic line emission polarization in cool core galaxy clusters as a diagnostic of fundamental transport processes. Drawing on developments in solar astrophysics, direct energetic particle impact induced polarization holds the promise to definitively determine the role of collisional processes such as thermal conduction in the ISM physics of galaxy clusters, while providing insight into other highly anisotropic excitation mechanisms such as shocks, intense radiation fields, and suprathermal particles. Under certain physical conditions, theoretical calculations predict of the order of 10% polarization. Our observations of the filaments in four nearby cool core clusters place stringent upper limits ( 0.1%) on the presence of emission line polarization, requiring that if thermal conduction is operative, the thermal gradients are not in the saturated regime. This limit is consistent with theoretical models of the thermal structure of filament interfaces
Original languageEnglish
Article number66
Number of pages13
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • conduction, galaxies: active, galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium, galaxies: ISM, polarization


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