Anisotropic thermal conduction and the cooling flow problem in galaxy clusters

Ian J. Parrish, Eliot Quataert, Prateek Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


We examine the long-standing cooling flow problem in galaxy clusters with three-dimensional magnetohydrodynamics simulations of isolated clusters including radiative cooling and anisotropic thermal conduction along magnetic field lines. The central regions of the intracluster medium (ICM) can have cooling timescales of 200 Myr or shorter - in order to prevent a cooling catastrophe the ICM must be heated by some mechanism such as active galactic nucleus feedback or thermal conduction from the thermal reservoir at large radii. The cores of galaxy clusters are linearly unstable to the heat-flux-driven buoyancy instability (HBI), which significantly changes the thermodynamics of the cluster core. The HBI is a convective, buoyancy-driven instability that rearranges the magnetic field to be preferentially perpendicular to the temperature gradient. For a wide range of parameters, our simulations demonstrate that in the presence of the HBI, the effective radial thermal conductivity is reduced to ≲10% of the full Spitzer conductivity. With this suppression of conductive heating, the cooling catastrophe occurs on a timescale comparable to the central cooling time of the cluster. Thermal conduction alone is thus unlikely to stabilize clusters with low central entropies and short central cooling timescales. High central entropy clusters have sufficiently long cooling times that conduction can help stave off the cooling catastrophe for cosmologically interesting timescales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-108
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Convection
  • Galaxies:clusters:general
  • Instabilities
  • MHD
  • Plasmas
  • X-rays:galaxies:clusters


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