Is there a left-handed magnetic field in the solar neighborhood?
Exploring helical magnetic fields in the interstellar medium through dust polarization power spectra
Nordita, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University, Roslagstullsbacken 23, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
2 Division of Mathematics, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 4HN, UK
3 Physics Department, University of Crete/FORTH, Greece
4 JILA and Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
5 Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm, Sweden
Accepted: 24 November 2018
Context. The analysis of the full-sky Planck polarization data at 850 μm revealed unexpected properties of the E- and B-mode power spectra of dust emission in the interstellar medium (ISM). The positive cross-correlations over a wide range of angular scales between the total dust intensity, T, and both E and (most of all) B modes has raised new questions about the physical mechanisms that affect dust polarization, such as the Galactic magnetic field structure. This is key both to better understanding ISM dynamics and to accurately describing Galactic foregrounds to the polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). In particular, in the quest to find primordial B modes of the CMB, the observed positive cross-correlation between T and B for interstellar dust requires further investigation towards parity-violating processes in the ISM.
Aims. In this theoretical paper we investigate the possibility that the observed cross-correlations in the dust polarization power spectra, and specifically the one between T and B, can be related to a parity-odd quantity in the ISM such as the magnetic helicity.
Methods. We produce synthetic dust polarization data, derived from 3D analytical toy models of density structures and helical magnetic fields, to compare with the E and B modes of observations. We present several models. The first is an ideal fully helical isotropic case, such as the Arnold-Beltrami-Childress field. Second, following the nowadays favored interpretation of the T–E signal in terms of the observed alignment between the magnetic field morphology and the filamentary density structure of the diffuse ISM, we design models for helical magnetic fields wrapped around cylindrical interstellar filaments. Lastly, focusing on the observed T–B correlation, we propose a new line of interpretation of the Planck observations advocating the presence of a large-scale helical component of the Galactic magnetic field in the solar neighborhood.
Results. Our analysis shows that: I) the sign of magnetic helicity does not affect E and B modes for isotropic magnetic-field configurations; II) helical magnetic fields threading interstellar filaments cannot reproduce the Planck results; and III) a weak helical left-handed magnetic field structure in the solar neighborhood may explain the T–B correlation seen in the Planck data. Such a magnetic-field configuration would also account for the observed large-scale T–E correlation.
Conclusions. This work suggests a new perspective for the interpretation of the dust polarization power spectra that supports the imprint of a large-scale structure of the Galactic magnetic field in the solar neighborhood.
Key words: ISM: magnetic fields / dust / extinction / local insterstellar matter / ISM: structure / cosmic background radiation
© ESO 2019
Open Access article, published by EDP Sciences, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.