Radio galaxy NGC 1265 unveils the accretion shock onto the perseus galaxy cluster

C. Pfrommer, Thomas W Jones

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32 Scopus citations


We present a consistent three-dimensional model for the head-tail radio galaxy NGC 1265 that explains the complex radio morphology and spectrum by a past passage of the galaxy and radio bubble through a shock wave. Using analytical solutions to the full Riemann problem and hydrodynamical simulations, we study how this passage transformed the plasma bubble into a toroidal vortex ring. Adiabatic compression of the aged electron population causes it to be energized and to emit low surface brightness and steep-spectrum radio emission. The large infall velocity of NGC 1265 - which is barely gravitationally bound to the Perseus cluster at its current position - and the low Faraday rotation measure values and variance of the jet strongly argue that this transformation was due to the accretion shock onto Perseus situated roughly at R 200. Estimating the volume change of the radio bubble enables inferring a shock Mach number of M ≃4.2+0.8-1.2, a density jump of 3.4+0.2 -0.4, a temperature jump of 6.3+2.5 -2.7, and a pressure jump of 21.5 10.5 while allowing for uncertainties in the equation of state of the radio plasma and volume of the torus. Extrapolating X-ray profiles, we obtain upper limits on the gas temperature and density in the infalling warm-hot intergalactic medium of kT ≲ 0.4keV and n ≲ 5 × 10-5 cm-3. The orientation of the ellipsoidally shaped radio torus in combination with the direction of the galaxy's head and tail in the plane of the sky is impossible to reconcile with projection effects. Instead, this argues for post-shock shear flows that have been caused by curvature in the shock surface with a characteristic radius of 850 kpc. The energy density of the shear flow corresponds to a turbulent-to-thermal energy density of 14% - consistent with cosmological simulations. The shock-injected vorticity might be important in generating and amplifying magnetic fields in galaxy clusters. We suggest that future polarized radio observations by, e.g., LOFAR of head-tail galaxies can be complementary probes of accretion shocks onto galaxy clusters and are unique in determining their detailed flow properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number22
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2011


  • galaxies: clusters: individual (Perseus)
  • galaxies: individual (NGC 1265)
  • galaxies: jets
  • intergalactic medium
  • radio continuum: galaxies
  • shock waves

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