Cluster merger shock constraints on particle acceleration and nonthermal pressure in the intracluster medium

Ehud Nakar*, Miloš Milosavljević, Daisuke Nagai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


X-ray observations of galaxy cluster merger shocks can be used to constrain nonthermal processes in the intracluster medium (ICM). The presence of nonthermal pressure components in the ICM, as well as the shock acceleration of particles and their escape, all affect shock jump conditions in distinct ways. Therefore, these processes can be constrained using X-ray surface brightness and temperature maps of merger shock fronts. Here we use these observations to place constraints on particle acceleration efficiency in intermediate Mach number (M ≈ 2-3) shocks and explore the potential to constrain the contribution of nonthermal components (e.g., cosmic rays, magnetic field, and turbulence) to ICM pressure in cluster outskirts. We model the hydrodynamic jump conditions in merger shocks discovered in the galaxy clusters A520 (M ≈ 2) and 1E 0657-56 (M ≈ 3) using a multifluid model comprising a thermal plasma, a nonthermal plasma, and a magnetic field. Based on the published X-ray spectroscopic data alone, we find that the fractional contribution of cosmic rays accelerated in these shocks is ≲10% of the shock downstream pressure. Current observations do not constrain the fractional contribution of nonthermal components to the pressure of the undisturbed shock upstream. Future X-ray observations, however, have the potential to either detect particle acceleration in these shocks through its effect on the shock dynamics, or place a lower limit on the nonthermal pressure contributions in the undisturbed ICM. We briefly discuss implications for models of particle acceleration in collisionless shocks and the estimates of galaxy cluster masses derived from X-ray and Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-135
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmic rays
  • Galaxies: clusters: general
  • Galaxies: clusters: individual (A520, 1E 0657- 06) intergalactic medium
  • Shock waves
  • Turbulence
  • X-rays: galaxies: clusters


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