EDP Sciences
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Volume 417, Number 2, April II 2004
Page(s) 541 - 555
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20031778

A&A 417, 541-555 (2004)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20031778

Magnetic fields in merging spirals - the Antennae

K. T. Chyzy1 and R. Beck2

1  Astronomical Observatory, Jagiellonian University, ul. Orla 171, 30-244 Kraków, Poland
2  Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany

(Received 26 August 2003 / Accepted 22 December 2003)

We present an extensive study of magnetic fields in a system of merging galaxies. We obtained for NGC 4038/39 (the Antennae) radio total intensity and polarization maps at 8.44 GHz, 4.86 GHz and 1.49 GHz using the VLA in the C and D configurations. The galaxy pair possesses bright, extended radio emission filling the body of the whole system, with no dominant nuclear sources. The radio thermal fraction of NGC 4038/39 was found to be about 50% at 10.45 GHz, higher than in normal spirals. Most of the thermal emission is associated with star-forming regions, but only a part of these are weakly visible in the optical domain because of strong obscuration. The mean total magnetic fields in both galaxies are about two times stronger ( $\simeq$ $20\,\mu$G) than in normal spirals. However, the degree of field regularity is rather low, implying tangling of the regular component in regions with interaction-enhanced star formation. Our data combined with those in  $\ion{H}{i}$, H $\alpha$, X-rays and in far infrared allow us to study local interrelations between different gas phases and magnetic fields. We distinguish several radio-emitting regions with different physical properties and at various evolutionary stages: the rudimentary magnetic spiral, the northern cool part of the dark cloud complex extending between the galaxies, its warm southern region, its southernmost star-forming region deficient in radio emission, and the highly polarized northeastern ridge associated with the base of an unfolding tidal tail. The whole region of the dark cloud complex shows a coherent magnetic field structure, probably tracing the line of collision between the arms of merging spirals while the total radio emission reveals hidden star formation nests. The southern region is a particularly intense merger-triggered starburst. Highly tangled magnetic fields reach there strengths of  $\simeq$ $30\,\mu$G, even larger than in both individual galaxies, possibly due to compression of the original fields pulled out from the parent disks. In the northeastern ridge, away from star-forming regions, the magnetic field is highly coherent with a strong regular component of  $10\,\mu$G tracing gas shearing motions along the tidal tail. We find no signs of field compression by infalling gas there. The radio spectrum is much steeper in this region indicating aging of the CR electron population as they move away from their sources in star-forming regions. Modelling Faraday rotation data shows that we deal with a three-dimensionally curved structure of magnetic fields, becoming almost parallel to the sky plane in the southeastern part of the ridge.

Key words: galaxies: general -- galaxies: magnetic fields -- galaxies: interactions -- galaxies: individual: Antennae -- radio continuum: galaxies

Offprint request: K. T. Chyzy, chris@oa.uj.edu.pl

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