Magnetic fields in elliptical galaxies: An observational probe of the fluctuation dynamo action

Amit Seta*, Luiz Felippe S. Rodrigues, Christoph Federrath, Christopher A. Hales

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Fluctuation dynamos are thought to play an essential role in the evolution of magnetized galaxies, saturating within ∼0.01 Gyr and thus potentially acting as seeds for large-scale mean-field dynamos. However, unambiguous observational confirmation of the fluctuation dynamo action in a galactic environment is still missing. This is because, in spiral galaxies, it is difficult to differentiate between small-scale magnetic fields generated by a fluctuation dynamo and those due to the tangling of the large-scale field. We propose that observations of magnetic fields in elliptical galaxies would directly probe the fluctuation dynamo action. This is motivated by the fact that in ellipticals, due to their lack of significant rotation, the conventional large-scale dynamo is absent and the fluctuation dynamo is responsible for controlling the strength and structure of the magnetic field. By considering turbulence injected by Type Ia supernova explosions and possible magnetic field amplification by cooling flows, we estimate expected magnetic field strengths of 0.2-1 mG in the centers of quiescent elliptical galaxies. We use a semianalytic model of galaxy formation to estimate the distribution and redshift evolution of field strengths, tentatively finding a decrease in magnetic field strength with decreasing redshift. We analyze a historical sample of radio sources that exhibit the Laing-Garrington effect (radio polarization asymmetry in jets) and infer magnetic field strengths between 0.14 and 1.33 mG for a uniform thermal electron density and between 1.36 and 6.21 mG for the thermal electron density following the King profile. We examine observational techniques for measuring the magnetic field saturation state in elliptical galaxies, focusing on Faraday rotation measure grids, the Laing-Garrington effect, synchrotron emission, and gravitational lensing, and finding appealing prospects for future empirical analysis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number2
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2021


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