Measuring magnetic fields in galaxies
Montgomery, Jordan Daniel
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The magnetic (B) field in the disk of a galaxy may play an important role in the dynamics and evolution of the interstellar medium (ISM). The process by which the interstellar B-field is generated and maintained is not well understood, but the general expectation is that the generated B-field will be toroidal (parallel to the disk of the galaxy). The large-scale B-field threading the cold ISM of external galaxies can be probed via optical and near-infrared (NIR) polarimetric observations. However, scattered light can introduce false-positive B-field detections into these observations and is a source of contamination. This dissertation sets a context for observations of the Milky Way B-field by assessing the degree to which scattered light affects NIR polarimetry and reporting measurements of the B-fields in the disks of several external galaxies. The polarization properties of scattered light were investigated in order to better understand the degree to which scattered light may be a source of contamination in studies of the cold ISM B-field of external galaxies. The optical and NIR polarization of three, nearby, reflection nebulae was observed, and the wavelength dependence of the polarization percentage was measured. This wavelength dependence was found to be related to the characteristics of the scattering dust grain population with the general conclusion that the total amount of polarized, scattered light decreases with increasing wavelength. This analysis was repeated for the scattering-dominated galaxy M82 to test if similar results obtained for galaxies outside the Milky Way. Observations of this object indicate that the total amount of contamination from scattered light in this object is also less at NIR wavelengths than at optical wavelengths, and they confirm that B-field generated polarization can be detected in external galaxies. A sample of edge-on galaxies was observed for NIR polarization to measure the cold ISM B-field there. These observations indicate the likely presence of non-toroidal B-fields, localized, coherent B-field structures, and spiral disk structure detectable via NIR polarimetry. A comparison of the B-fields threading the cold and hot components of the ISM suggests that these B-fields may be dynamically distinct under certain conditions.
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