The low density and magnetization of a massive galaxy halo exposed by a fast radio burst

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Science  11 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6462, pp. 231-234
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay0073

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Probing a galaxy halo with a radio burst

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond flashes of radio emission from distant galaxies. It has only recently become possible to locate single bursts precisely enough to determine the host galaxy. Prochaska et al. have observed and localized a FRB using a radio interferometer. The line of sight to the host galaxy coincidentally passes through the outskirts of a closer foreground galaxy. By analyzing the propagation of the FRB, the authors put constraints on the density and magnetization of gas in the outskirts of the foreground galaxy. The technique provides complementary information to existing methods using background quasars.

Science, this issue p. 231


Present-day galaxies are surrounded by cool and enriched halo gas extending for hundreds of kiloparsecs. This halo gas is thought to be the dominant reservoir of material available to fuel future star formation, but direct constraints on its mass and physical properties have been difficult to obtain. We report the detection of a fast radio burst (FRB 181112), localized with arcsecond precision, that passes through the halo of a foreground galaxy. Analysis of the burst shows that the halo gas has low net magnetization and turbulence. Our results imply predominantly diffuse gas in massive galactic halos, even those hosting active supermassive black holes, contrary to some previous results.

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