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Journal Article

Runaway merger shocks in galaxy cluster outskirts and radio relics


Zhang,  Congyao
High Energy Astrophysics, MPI for Astrophysics, Max Planck Society;


Churazov,  Eugene
High Energy Astrophysics, MPI for Astrophysics, Max Planck Society;

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Zhang, C., Churazov, E., Forman, W. R., & Lyskova, N. (2019). Runaway merger shocks in galaxy cluster outskirts and radio relics. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 488(4), 5259-5266. doi:10.1093/mnras/stz2135.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-CFB5-7
Moderately strong shocks arise naturally when two subclusters merge. For instance, when a smaller subcluster falls into the gravitational potential of a more massive cluster, a bow shock is formed and moves together with the subcluster. After pericentre passage, however, the subcluster is decelerated by the gravity of the main cluster, while the shock continues moving away from the cluster centre. These shocks are considered as promising candidates for powering radio relics found in many clusters. The aim of this paper is to explore the fate of such shocks when they travel to the cluster outskirts, far from the place where the shocks were initiated. In a uniform medium, such a ‘runaway’ shock should weaken with distance. However, as shocks move to large radii in galaxy clusters, the shock is moving down a steep density gradient that helps the shock to maintain its strength over a large distance. Observations and numerical simulations show that, beyond R500, gas density profiles are as steep as, or steeper than, ∼r−3, suggesting that there exists a ‘habitable zone’ for moderately strong shocks in cluster outskirts where the shock strength can be maintained or even amplified. A characteristic feature of runaway shocks is that the strong compression, relative to the initial state, is confined to a narrow region just behind the shock. Therefore, if such a shock runs over a region with a pre-existing population of relativistic particles, then the boost in radio emissivity, due to pure adiabatic compression, will also be confined to a narrow radial shell.