The nature of the low-frequency emission of M 51
First observations of a nearby galaxy with LOFAR⋆
1 Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany
2 ASTRON, Postbus 2, 7990 AA, Dwingeloo, The Netherlands
3 Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, Postbus 800, 9700 AV Groningen, The Netherlands
4 School of Mathematics and Statistics, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU, UK
5 School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Highfield, SO17 1SJ, Southampton, UK
6 Universität Hamburg Sternwarte, Gojenbergsweg 112, 21029 Hamburg, Germany
7 INAF-IRA Bologna, via Gobetti 101, 40129 Bologna, Italy
8 Astronomical Observatory, Jagiellonian University, ul. Orla 171, 30-244 Kraków, Poland
9 Dept. of Earth and Space Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology, Onsala Space Observatory, 439 92 Onsala, Sweden
10 Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Astronomisches Institut, 44780 Bochum, Germany
11 Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Karl-Schwarzschild-Str. 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
12 Department of Astrophysics/IMAPP, Radboud University Nijmegen, PO Box 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen, The Netherlands
13 Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, PO Box 9513, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
14 Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Radio Astronomy Department, Auf dem Hügel 71, 53121 Bonn, Germany
15 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Bologna, V.le Berti Pichat 6/2, 40127 Bologna, Italy
Received: 12 May 2014
Accepted: 1 July 2014
Context. Low-frequency radio continuum observations (<300 MHz) can provide valuable information on the propagation of low-energy cosmic ray electrons (CRE). Nearby spiral galaxies have hardly been studied in this frequency range because of the technical challenges of low-frequency radio interferometry. This is now changing with the start of operations of LOFAR.
Aims. We aim to study the propagation of low-energy CRE in the interarm regions and the extended disk of the nearly face-on spiral galaxy Messier 51. We also search for polarisation in M 51 and other extragalactic sources in the field.
Methods. The grand-design spiral galaxy M 51 was observed with the LOFAR High Frequency Antennas (HBA) and imaged in total intensity and polarisation. This observation covered the frequencies between 115 MHz and 175 MHz with 244 subbands of 8 channels each, resulting in 1952 channels. This allowed us to use RM synthesis to search for polarisation.
Results. We produced an image of total emission of M 51 at the mean frequency of 151 MHz with 20′′ resolution and 0.3 mJy rms noise, which is the most sensitive image of a galaxy at frequencies below 300 MHz so far. The integrated spectrum of total radio emission is described well by a power law, while flat spectral indices in the central region indicate thermal absorption. We observe that the disk extends out to 16 kpc and see a break in the radial profile near the optical radius of the disk. The radial scale lengths in the inner and outer disks are greater at 151 MHz, and the break is smoother at 151 MHz than those observed at 1.4 GHz. The arm-interarm contrast is lower at 151 MHz than at 1400 MHz, indicating propagation of CRE from spiral arms into interarm regions. The correlations between the images of radio emission at 151 MHz and 1400 MHz and the FIR emission at 70 μm reveal breaks on scales of 1.4 and 0.7 kpc, respectively. The total (equipartition) magnetic field strength decreases from about 28 μG in the central region to about 10 μG at 10 kpc radius. No significant polarisation was detected from M 51, owing to severe Faraday depolarisation. Six extragalactic sources are detected in polarisation in the M 51 field of 4.1° × 4.1° size. Two sources show complex structures in Faraday space.
Conclusions. Our main results, the scale lengths of the inner and outer disks at 151 MHz and 1.4 GHz, arm-interarm contrast, and the break scales of the radio-FIR correlations, can be explained consistently by CRE diffusion, leading to a longer propagation length of CRE of lower energy. The distribution of CRE sources drops sharply at about 10 kpc radius, where the star formation rate also decreases sharply. We find evidence that thermal absorption is primarily caused by H ii regions. The non-detection of polarisation from M 51 at 151 MHz is consistent with the estimates of Faraday depolarisation. Future searches for polarised emission in this frequency range should concentrate on regions with low star formation rates.
Key words: polarization / cosmic rays / galaxies: ISM / galaxies: magnetic fields / radio continuum: galaxies
The total intensity FITS file of the Stokes I image of M 51 is only available at the CDS via anonymous ftp to cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr (188.8.131.52) or via http://cdsarc.u-strasbg.fr/viz-bin/qcat?J/A+A/568/A74
Now at the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Highfield, SO17 1SJ, Southampton, UK.
© ESO, 2014