Suppressed heat conductivity in the intracluster medium: Implications for the magneto-thermal instability

Thomas Berlok, Eliot Quataert, Martin E. Pessah, Christoph Pfrommer

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In the outskirts of the intracluster medium (ICM) in galaxy clusters, the temperature decreases with radius. Due to the weakly collisional nature of the plasma, these regions are susceptible to the magneto-thermal instability (MTI), which can sustain turbulence and provide turbulent pressure support in the ICM. This instability arises due to heat conduction directed along the magnetic field, with a heat conductivity which is normally assumed to be given by the Spitzer value. Recent numerical studies of the ion mirror and the electron whistler instability using particle-in-cell codes have shown that microscale instabilities can lead to a reduced value for the heat conductivity in the ICM. This could in turn influence the efficiency with which the MTI drives turbulence. In this paper, we investigate the influence of reduced heat transport on the non-linear evolution of the MTI. We study plane-parallel, initially static atmospheres and employ a subgrid model that mimics the influence of the mirror instability on the heat conductivity. We use this subgrid model to assess the effect of microscales on the large-scale dynamics of the ICM. We find that the non-linear saturation of the MTI is surprisingly robust in our simulations. Over a factor of ∼103 in the thermal-to-magnetic pressure ratio and collisionality, we find at most modest changes to the saturation of the MTI with respect to reference simulations where heat transport is unsuppressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3435-3454
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • conduction
  • diffusion
  • galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium
  • instabilities
  • magnetic fields
  • plasmas


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