We report on a ~5σ detection of polarized 3-6 keV X-ray emission from the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A) with the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). The overall polarization degree of 1.8% ± 0.3% is detected by summing over a large region, assuming circular symmetry for the polarization vectors. The measurements imply an average polarization degree for the synchrotron component of ~2.5%, and close to 5% for the X-ray synchrotron-dominated forward shock region. These numbers are based on an assessment of the thermal and nonthermal radiation contributions, for which we used a detailed spatial-spectral model based on Chandra X-ray data. A pixel-by-pixel search for polarization provides a few tentative detections from discrete regions at the ~ 3σ confidence level. Given the number of pixels, the significance is insufficient to claim a detection for individual pixels, but implies considerable turbulence on scales smaller than the angular resolution. Cas A's X-ray continuum emission is dominated by synchrotron radiation from regions within ≲1017 cm of the forward and reverse shocks. We find that (i) the measured polarization angle corresponds to a radially oriented magnetic field, similar to what has been inferred from radio observations; (ii) the X-ray polarization degree is lower than in the radio band (~5%). Since shock compression should impose a tangential magnetic-field structure, the IXPE results imply that magnetic fields are reoriented within ~1017 cm of the shock. If the magnetic-field alignment is due to locally enhanced acceleration near quasi-parallel shocks, the preferred X-ray polarization angle suggests a size of 3 × 1016 cm for cells with radial magnetic fields.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- October 2022
- Supernova remnants;
- X-ray astronomy;
- Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena
- IXPE collaboration paper. Accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. This version reflects the version accepted by ApJ. With respect to version 1: new figures added to the Appendix and extension to the text, in particular the discussion section and Appendix