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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39 Scopus citations


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, ΔRM, 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 |b| ≥ 20°, polarization fractions ≥ 2%, and angular separations between 1 5 and 20'. We find an rms ΔRM 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 ~10 rad m-2 is significant at 5σ and persists in different data subsamples. While there have been other statistical studies of ΔRM 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 ΔRMs 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 ΔRMs to the intervening IGM yields an upper limit on the IGM magnetic field strength of 40 nG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number92
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 20 2019

Bibliographical note

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© 2019. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


  • galaxies
  • magnetic fields - intergalactic medium - methods
  • statistical - radio continuum


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