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Exploring Diffuse Radio Emission in the Southern Sky

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posted on 08.12.2021, 13:10 authored by Shakouri, Sara

This thesis investigates currently observed correlations between the thermal and non-thermal (radio halos) components of galaxy clusters, and seeks to verify the reliability of the proposed radio halo scaling relations presented in the literature. It employs a two-pronged approach: 1) a statistical examination of 15 galaxy clusters; and 2) detailed multi-wavelength analysis of individual objects of interest.  We first investigated radio data for 15 galaxy clusters drawn from the parent REXCESS sample observed with the ATCA at 1.4 GHz to conduct a radio halo survey. Examination of available and re-processed low resolution images revealed cluster-scale diffuse objects in three clusters. One was a radio halo candidate in Abell 3888 (A3888), with the two remaining diffuse sources being radio relic candidates. Follow-up observations of the candidate clusters were performed in July and December 2011, and March 2012, with the upgraded ATCA (CABB). Radio observations with CABB in different array configurations were used to provide the required resolution and sensitivity to a wider range of angular scales to probe the candidate diffuse sources. Examination of the final CABB images confirmed the existence of the radio halo in A3888; however, the remaining candidates were found to be a head-tail galaxy and a very bright radio galaxy with extended emission. As this thesis presents some of the earliest CABB observations, new data reduction and imaging procedures were necessarily developed and presented here.  The statistical component of this thesis uses a halo sample obtained from the combined detection of this work and the literature to derive new correlations between the cluster observables and the radio halo power. The new correlation between the X-ray luminosity and radio halo power derived here is flatter than the previous correlation in the literature, suggesting that massive clusters may host lower power halos than previously thought. In addition, we derived the upper limits of the undetected power of possible radio halos for our non-halo clusters via injection of fake radio halos into the UV data. Our derived upper limits with respect to the anticipated halo powers according to the previous and new correlations and their interpretations are discussed in the thesis. The distribution of the combined upper limits (this work and the literature) compared to our new correlation shows no sign of the strong bi-modality found in the literature.  As previously mentioned, we detected a giant radio halo in A3888. We observed A3888 with the AAOmega spectrograph to infer the dynamics of the cluster. We measured the spectra of 254 galaxies within a 300 radius from the core of A3888 and combined these data with the available literature redshifts in the region. We identified 71 member galaxies of A3888 and examined the density contours, which indicated that the distribution of the member galaxies is elongated along an east-west axis. This elongation might be indicative of dynamical interactions in the cluster; however, there is no statistically significant deviation from Gaussianity in the velocity data. We then carried out a Lee-Fitchett 3D substructure test and found that A3888 is bimodal and has two subgroups.  The head-tail galaxy mentioned earlier in one of the clusters was originally thought to be a radio relic candidate. Owing to available broadband polarimetric data and well-separated jets of the head-tail galaxy, we investigated the magnetic field direction of the head-tail galaxy and conclude it is highly likely that a helical magnetic field is present in the jets.  We present the high-resolution images of our 15 clusters and create a catalogue of the detected sources. Finally, we discuss concerns with the current radio halo detections in the literature, and how radio halo surveys could be designed in the future to yield unbiased results.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970102 Expanding Knowledge in the Physical Sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Chemical and Physical Sciences


Johnston-Hollitt, Melanie