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Astron. Astrophys. 354, 423-430 (2000)

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On the radio spectral index of galaxies

U. Lisenfeld 1 and H.J. Völk 2

1 IRAM, Avenida Divina Pastora 7, N.C., 18012 Granada, Spain (ute@iram.es)
2 Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik, Saupfercheckweg 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany (vlk@aposto.mpi-hd.mpg.de)

Received 17 May 1999 / Accepted 2 December 1999


The radio emission of a galaxy consists of thermal bremsstrahlung, synchrotron emission from discrete supernova remnants, and diffuse synchrotron emission from cosmic ray electrons spread over the galactic disk and halo. Each of these components has a different spectral index so that the total radio spectral index of a galaxy depends sensitively on their relative contribution and on the processes shaping the diffuse synchrotron emission. In the present paper we calculate the contribution of supernova remnants to the total synchrotron emission and conclude that it is about 10%. This moderate contribution has a noticeable effect on the nonthermal spectral index, lowering it by [FORMULA] for steep spectra. We then calculate the diffuse synchrotron emission in two simple models, a diffusion and a convection model. We find that the spatially integrated nonthermal spectral index is in general a poor diagnostic for the type of propagation or the importance of energy losses. Spatially resolved radio data for the halo of galaxies are necessary in order to draw firm conclusions. The steepening of the spectrum away from the disk is a clear indication that synchrotron and inverse Compton losses are taking place during the propagation of cosmic ray electrons in the halo. In those galaxies for which spatially resolved data for the halos exist such a steepening has been found. We conclude therefore that energy losses are generally important and that cosmic ray electrons cannot freely escape from galaxies.

Key words: ISM: cosmic rays – ISM: supernova remnants – radio continuum: galaxies – radio continuum: ISM

Send offprint requests to: U. Lisenfeld

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: February 9, 2000