Probing the mass and anisotropy of the Milky Way gaseous halo: Sight-lines toward Mrk 421 and PKS 2155-304

A. Gupta, S. Mathur, M. Galeazzi, Y. Krongold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We recently found that the halo of the Milky Way contains a large reservoir of warm-hot gas that accounts for large fraction of the missing baryons from the Galaxy. The average physical properties of this circumgalactic medium (CGM) are determined by combining average absorption and emission measurements along several extragalactic sightlines. However, there is a wide distribution of both, the halo emission measure and the O vii column density, suggesting that the Galactic warm-hot gaseous halo is anisotropic. We present Suzaku observations of fields close to two sightlines along which we have precise O vii absorption measurements with Chandra. The column densities along these two sightlines are similar within errors, but we find that the emission measures are different: 0.0025±0.0006 cm-6 pc near the Mrk 421 direction and 0.0042±0.0008 cm-6 pc close to the PKS 2155-304 sightline. Therefore the densities and pathlengths in the two directions must be different, providing a suggestive evidence that the warm-hot gas in the CGM of the Milky Way is not distributed uniformly. However, the formal errors on derived parameters are too large to make such a claim. In the Mrk 421 direction we derive the density of 1.6+2.6-0.8× 10-4cm-3 and pathlength of 334+685-274kpc. In the PKS 2155-304 direction we measure the gas density of 3.6+4.5-1.8× 10-4cm-3 and path-length of 109+200-82kpc. Thus the density and pathlength along these sightlines are consistent with each other within errors. The average density and pathlength of the two sightlines are similar to the global averages, so the halo mass is still huge, over 10 billion solar masses. With more such studies, we will be able to better characterize the CGM anisotropy and measure its mass more accurately. We can then compare the observational results with theoretical models and investigate if/how the CGM structure is related to the larger scale environment of the Milky Way. We also show that the Galactic disk makes insignificant contribution to the observed O vii absorption; a similar conclusion was also reached by Henley and Shelton (2013) about the emission measure. We further argue that any density inhomogeneity in the warm-hot gas, be it from clumping, from the disk, or from a non-constant density gradient, would strengthen our result in that the Galactic halo path-length and the mass would become larger than what we estimate here. As such, our results are conservative and robust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)775-787
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysics and Space Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Cosmology: observations
  • Galaxy: halo
  • Intergalactic medium
  • Quasars: absorption lines
  • X-rays: galaxies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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