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Journal Article

Simulating radio synchrotron emission in star-forming galaxies: small-scale magnetic dynamo and the origin of the far-infrared-radio correlation


Pakmor,  Rüdiger
Stellar Astrophysics, MPI for Astrophysics, Max Planck Society;

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Pfrommer, C., Werhahn, M., Pakmor, R., Girichidis, P., & Simpson, C. M. (2022). Simulating radio synchrotron emission in star-forming galaxies: small-scale magnetic dynamo and the origin of the far-infrared-radio correlation. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 515(3), 4229-4264. doi:10.1093/mnras/stac1808.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-5C2F-B
In star-forming galaxies, the far-infrared (FIR) and radio-continuum luminosities obey a tight empirical relation over a large range of star-formation rates (SFR). To understand the physics, we examine magnetohydrodynamic galaxy simulations, which follow the genesis of cosmic ray (CR) protons at supernovae and their advective and anisotropic diffusive transport. We show that gravitational collapse of the proto-galaxy generates a corrugated accretion shock, which injects turbulence and drives a small-scale magnetic dynamo. As the shock propagates outwards and the associated turbulence decays, the large velocity shear between the supersonically rotating cool disc with respect to the (partially) pressure-supported hot circumgalactic medium excites Kelvin–Helmholtz surface and body modes. Those interact non-linearly, inject additional turbulence and continuously drive multiple small-scale dynamos, which exponentially amplify weak seed magnetic fields. After saturation at small scales, they grow in scale to reach equipartition with thermal and CR energies in Milky Way-mass galaxies. In small galaxies, the magnetic energy saturates at the turbulent energy while it fails to reach equipartition with thermal and CR energies. We solve for steady-state spectra of CR protons, secondary electrons/positrons from hadronic CR-proton interactions with the interstellar medium, and primary shock-accelerated electrons at supernovae. The radio-synchrotron emission is dominated by primary electrons, irradiates the magnetized disc and bulge of our simulated Milky Way-mass galaxy and weakly traces bubble-shaped magnetically loaded outflows. Our star-forming and star-bursting galaxies with saturated magnetic fields match the global FIR-radio correlation (FRC) across four orders of magnitude. Its intrinsic scatter arises due to (i) different magnetic saturation levels that result from different seed magnetic fields, (ii) different radio synchrotron luminosities for different specific SFRs at fixed SFR, and (iii) a varying radio intensity with galactic inclination. In agreement with observations, several 100-pc-sized regions within star-forming galaxies also obey the FRC, while the centres of starbursts substantially exceed the FRC.