Searching for the missing baryons in clusters

Bilhuda Rasheed, Neta Bahcall, Paul Bode

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Observations of clusters of galaxies suggest that they contain fewer baryons (gas plus stars) than the cosmic baryon fraction. This "missing baryon" puzzle is especially surprising for the most massive clusters, which are expected to be representative of the cosmic matter content of the universe (baryons and dark matter). Here we show that the baryons may not actually be missing from clusters, but rather are extended to larger radii than typically observed. The baryon deficiency is typically observed in the central regions of clusters (∼0.5 the virial radius). However, the observed gas-density profile is significantly shallower than the mass-density profile, implying that the gas is more extended than the mass and that the gas fraction increases with radius. We use the observed density profiles of gas and mass in clusters to extrapolate the measured baryon fraction as a function of radius and as a function of cluster mass. We find that the baryon fraction reaches the cosmic value near the virial radius for all groups and clusters above ∼5 × 1013h72-1M. This suggests that the baryons are not missing, they are simply located in cluster outskirts. Heating processes (such as shock-heating of the intracluster gas, supernovae, and Active Galactic Nuclei feedback) likely contribute to this expanded distribution. Upcoming observations should be able to detect these baryons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3487-3492
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - Mar 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Cosmology
  • Hot intracluster gas


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