Differences in Faraday Rotation between Adjacent Extragalactic Radio Sources as a Probe of Cosmic Magnetic Fields

T. Vernstrom, B. M. Gaensler, L. Rudnick, H. Andernach

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32 Citations (Scopus)


Faraday rotation measures (RMs) of extragalactic radio sources provide information on line-of-sight magnetic fields, including contributions from our Galaxy, source environments, and the intergalactic medium (IGM). Looking at differences in RMs, Delta RM, between adjacent sources on the sky can help isolate these different components. In this work, we classify adjacent polarized sources in the NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS) as random or physical pairs. We recompute and correct the uncertainties in the NVSS RM catalog, since these were significantly overestimated. Our sample contains 317 physical and 5111 random pairs, all with Galactic latitudes vertical bar b vertical bar >= 20 degrees , polarization fractions >= 2%, and angular separations between 1'.5 and 20'. We find an rms Delta RM of 14.9 +/- 0.4 and 4.6 +/- 1.1 rad m(-2) for the random and physical pairs, respectively. This means that polarized extragalactic sources that are close on the sky but at different redshifts have larger differences in RM than two components of one source. This difference of similar to 10 rad m(-2) is significant at 5 sigma and persists in different data subsamples. While there have been other statistical studies of Delta RM between adjacent polarized sources, this is the first unambiguous demonstration that some of this RM difference must be extragalactic, thereby providing a firm upper limit on the RM contribution of the IGM. If the Delta RMs originate local to the sources, then the local magnetic field difference between random sources is a factor of 2 larger than that between components of one source. Alternatively, attributing the difference in Delta RMs to the intervening IGM yields an upper limit on the IGM magnetic field strength of 40 nG.

Original languageEnglish
Article number92
Number of pages20
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


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