Turbulence and mixing in the intracluster medium

P. Sharma, B. D.G. Chandran, E. Quataert, I. J. Parrish

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

7 Scopus citations


The intracluster medium (ICM) is stably stratified in the hydrodynamic sense with the entropy s increasing outwards. However, thermal conduction along magnetic field lines fundamentally changes the stability of the ICM, leading to the "heat-flux buoyancy instability" when dT/dr > 0 and the "magnetothermal instability" when dT/dr < 0. The ICM is thus buoyantly unstable regardless of the signs of dT/dr and ds/dr. On the other hand, these temperature-gradient-driven instabilities saturate by reorienting the magnetic field (perpendicular to r̂ when dT/dr > 0 and parallel to r̂ when dT/dr < 0), without generating sustained convection. We show that after an anisotropically conducting plasma reaches this nonlinearly stable magnetic configuration, it experiences a buoyant restoring force that resists further distortions of the magnetic field. This restoring force is analogous to the buoyant restoring force experienced by a stably stratified adiabatic plasma. We argue that in order for a driving mechanism (e.g, galaxy motions or cosmic-ray buoyancy) to overcome this restoring force and generate turbulence in the ICM, the strength of the driving must exceed a threshold, corresponding to turbulent velocities ≳10-100 km/s. For weaker driving, the ICM remains in its nonlinearly stable magnetic configuration, and turbulent mixing is effectively absent.We discuss the implications of these findings for the turbulent diffusion of metals and heat in the ICM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMonster's Fiery Breath
Subtitle of host publicationFeedback in Galaxies, Groups, and Clusters - Proceedings of the International Conference
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Conference on Monster's Fiery Breath: Feedback in Galaxies, Groups, and Clusters - Madison, WI, United States
Duration: Jun 1 2009Jun 5 2009

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616


OtherInternational Conference on Monster's Fiery Breath: Feedback in Galaxies, Groups, and Clusters
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityMadison, WI

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


  • Clusters
  • Convection
  • Cooling-flows


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