Unleash Cosmic Power: Energy flow in the largest shock waves in the universe

Concept illustration of astrophysical shock waves of the universe

An international team of researchers has successfully estimated the size and melting speed of a shock wave in a merging galaxy cluster, finding that the energy released is 2.3 1038 W. This result was made possible by exploiting a recent collision of clusters, which facilitated the complex measurement of celestial objects. (Artists concept.)

A team of researchers led by associate professor Kazuhiro Nakazawa of Nagoya University/KMI and doctoral student Yuki Omiya at the Graduate School of Science have made great strides in understanding galaxy clusters. Collaborating with esteemed institutions such as National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Tokyo University of Sciences, Hiroshima University, Saitama University, JAXA extension Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Netherlands Institute for Space Sciences and Toho University, have managed to estimate the size and merger speed of a newborn shock wave in the nearby merging galaxy cluster CIZA J1358.9-4750. This effort also allowed them to measure the energy released, an astonishing 2.3 out of 1038 W. The data for this research was obtained from the European X-ray astronomy satellite XMM-Newton.

Merger of the CIZA1359 galaxy cluster

Recent merging galaxy cluster CIZA J1358.9-4750. Credit: Nagoya University

Galaxy clusters and their meaning

Galaxy clusters, known as the largest self-gravitating objects in the universe, harbor a vast expanse of hot gas. This gas emits brilliant X-rays, making these clusters visible. When these colossal clusters merge, it culminates in an astronomical event of unparalleled magnitude, generating a shock wave spanning 3 million square light-years.

Merging Galaxy Cluster CIZA1359 Intensity Temperature

Images of X-ray intensity (left) and temperature (right) of the recently merging galaxy cluster CIZA1359. Credit: Nagoya University

The complex measurement of astronomical objects

Typically in astronomy, measuring the depth of celestial objects presents a significant challenge. However, in this study, the team overcame this difficulty by taking advantage of the recent collision of the two clusters. This event allowed us to make reasonable estimates of the original shape of the clusters. Using these estimates, they determined the shock front velocity by analyzing the temperature distribution of the high-temperature gas. They then multiplied this value by the length, width and depth of the clusters to calculate the amount of kinetic energy converted into heat, particle acceleration and magnetic field amplification in the shock front.

This research was published in the February 2023 issue of Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan (PASJ). In a related article, Kurahara et al. (PASJ, December 2022) discovered synchrotron radio emission from accelerated electrons and amplified magnetic fields around the shock front. Its luminosity is estimated at ~3.5 1033 W. These results give us a conversion efficiency of about 10-5.

Understanding the distribution of conversion efficiency will help us clarify what is happening under the biggest shockwave in cluster merging.

Reference: XMM-Newton view of shock heating in an early fusion cluster, CIZA J1358.94750 by Yuki Omiya, Kazuhiro Nakazawa, Kyoko Matsushita, Shogo B Kobayashi, Nobuhiro Okabe, Kosuke Sato, Takayuki Tamura, Yutaka Fujita, Liyi Gu, Tetsu Kitayama, Takuya Akahori, Kohei Kurahara, and Tomohiro Yamagu who, 1 December 2022, Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan.
DOI: 10.1093/pasj/psac087

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