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Systematic bias in interstellar magnetic field estimates

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Anvar Shukurov, Professor Dmitry Sokoloff

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Abstract

Faraday rotation of the polarization plane in magnetized thermal plasma provides one of the most efficient methods to deduce regular magnetic fields from radio astronomical observations. Since the Faraday rotation measure RM is proportional to an integral, along the line of sight, of magnetic field weighted with thermal electron density, RM is believed to yield the regular magnetic field averaged over large volume. Here we show that this is not the case in a turbulent medium where fluctuations in magnetic field and electron density are not statistically independent, and so contribute to RM. For example, in the case of pressure equilibrium, magnetic field can be anticorrelated with plasma density to produce a negative contribution. As a result, the strength of the regular magnetic field obtained from RM can be underestimated if the fluctuations in electron density and magnetic field are neglected. The anticorrelation also reduces the standard deviation of RM. We further discuss the effect of the positive correlations where the standard treatment of RM leads to an overestimated magnetic field. Because of the anisotropy of the turbulent magnetic field, the regular magnetic fields strength, obtained from synchrotron emission using standard formulae, can be overestimated. A positive correlation between cosmic-ray number density and magnetic field leads to an overestimate of the strengths of the regular and total fields. These effects can explain the difference between the strengths of the regular Galactic magnetic field as indicated by RM and synchrotron emissivity data and reconcile the magnetic field strength in the Solar vicinity with typical strength of regular magnetic fields in external galaxies.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Beck R, Shukurov A, Sokoloff D, Wielebinski R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Astronomy and Astrophysics

Year: 2003

Volume: 411

Issue: 2

Pages: 99-107

Print publication date: 01/11/2003

ISSN (print): 0004-6361

ISSN (electronic): 1432-0746

Publisher: EDP Sciences

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20031101

DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20031101


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