Observational signatures of magnetic field structure in relativistic AGN jets
Department of Mathematical Sciences, Durham University, UK
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Accepted: 24 December 2018
Context. Active galactic nuclei (AGN) launch highly energetic jets sometimes outshining their host galaxy. These jets are collimated outflows that have been accelerated near a supermassive black hole located at the centre of the galaxy. Their, virtually indispensable, energy reservoir is either due to gravitational energy released from accretion or due to the extraction of kinetic energy from the rotating supermassive black hole itself. In order to channel part of this energy to the jet, though, the presence of magnetic fields is necessary. The extent to which these magnetic fields survive in the jet further from the launching region is under debate. Nevertheless, observations of polarised emission and Faraday rotation measure confirm the existence of large scale magnetic fields in jets.
Aims. Various models describing the origin of the magnetic fields in AGN jets lead to different predictions about the large scale structure of the magnetic field. In this paper we study the observational signatures of different magnetic field configurations that may exist in AGN jets in order to asses what kind of information regarding the field structure can be obtained from radio emission, and what would be missed.
Methods. We explore three families of magnetic field configurations. First, a force-free helical magnetic field corresponding to a dynamically relaxed field in the rest frame of the jet. Second, a magnetic field with a co-axial cable structure arising from the Biermann-battery effect at the accretion disk. Third, a braided magnetic field that could be generated by turbulent motion at the accretion disk. We evaluate the intensity of synchrotron emission, the intrinsic polarization profile and the Faraday rotation measure arising from these fields. We assume that the jet consists of a relativistic spine where the radiation originates from and a sheath containing thermalised electrons responsible for the Faraday screening. We evaluate these values for a range of viewing angles and Lorentz factors. We account for Gaussian beaming that smooths the observed profile.
Results. Radio emission distributions from the jets with dominant large-scale helical fields show asymmetry across their width. The Faraday rotation asymmetry is the same for fields with opposing chirality (handedness). For jets which are tilted towards the observer the synchrotron emission and fractional polarization can distinguish the field’s chirality. When viewed either side-on or at a Blazar type angle only the fractional polarization can make this distinction. Further this distinction can only be made if the direction of the jet propagation velocity is known, along with the location of the jet’s origin. The complex structure of the braided field is found not to be observable due to a combination of line of sight integration and limited resolution of observation. This raises the possibility that, even if asymmetric radio emission signatures are present, the true structure of the field may still be obscure.
Key words: magnetic fields / relativistic processes / ISM: jets and outflows / methods: data analysis / radio continuum: general
© ESO 2019