Dominance of outflowing electric currents on decaparsec to kiloparsec scales in extragalactic jets
1 Dept. of Mathematical Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell 01854, USA
2 Dept. of Physics, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
3 Research Center for Astronomy and Applied Mathematics, Academy of Athens, 11527 Athens, Greece
4 National Research Nuclear University, 31 Kashirskoe highway, 115409 Moscow, Russia
5 NASA/GSFC, Code 663, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
6 Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Astronomy and Astrophysics Section, 31 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2, Ireland
Received: 25 September 2015
Accepted: 31 March 2016
Context. Helical magnetic fields embedded in the jets of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are required by the broad range of theoretical models that advocate for electromagnetic launching of the jets. In most models, the direction of the magnetic field is random, but if the axial field is generated by a Cosmic Battery generated by current in the direction of rotation in the accretion disk, there is a correlation between the directions of the spin of the AGN accretion disk and of the axial field, which leads to a specific direction for the axial electric current, azimuthal magnetic field, and the resulting observed transverse Faraday–rotation (FR) gradient across the jet, due to the systematic change in the line-of-sight magnetic field.
Aims. We consider new observational evidence for the presence of a nested helical magnetic-field structure such as would be brought about by the operation of the Cosmic Battery, and make predictions about the expected behavior of transverse FR gradients observed on decaparsec and kiloparsec scales.
Methods. We have jointly considered 27 detections of transverse FR gradients on parsec scales, four reports of reversals in the directions of observed transverse FR gradients observed on parsec–decaparsec scales, and five detections of transverse FR gradients on decaparsec–kiloparsec scales, one reported here for the first time. We also consider seven tentative additional examples of transverse FR gradients on kiloparsec scales, based on an initial visual inspection of published Very Large Array FR maps of 85 extragalactic radio sources, for three of which we have carried out quantitative analyses in order to quantitatively estimate the significances of the gradients.
Results. The data considered indicate a predominance of transverse FR gradients in the clockwise direction on the sky (i.e., net axial current flowing inward in the jet) on parsec scales and in the counter-clockwise direction on the sky (i.e., net axial current flowing outward) on scales greater than about 10 pc, consistent with the expectations for the Cosmic Battery. The predominance of counter-clockwise FR gradients on larger scales has been established at the 3σ confidence level.
Conclusions. The collected results provide evidence for a reversal in the direction of the net azimuthal magnetic field determining the ordered component of the observed FR images, with distance from the jet base. This can be understood if the dominant azimuthal field on parsec scales corresponds to an axial electric current flowing inward along the jet, whereas the (weaker) dominant azimuthal field on kiloparsec scales corresponds to a outward-flowing current in the outer sheath of the jet and/or an extended disk wind. This is precisely the current/magnetic field structure that should be generated by the Cosmic Battery.
Key words: accretion, accretion disks / galaxies: active / galaxies: jets / galaxies: magnetic fields / magnetic fields
© ESO, 2016