Multifrequency studies of bright radio supernova remnants. 2: W49B

Moffett, David A.; Reynolds, Stephen P.

Published in: ApJ, 437, 705


We report radio observations of the supernova remnant W49B using the Very Large Array (VLA) of the NRAO at 90, 20, and 6 cm. This work continues the study of the properties of young, bright supernova remnants (SNRs) begun with 3C 391 (Moffett & Reynolds 1994). Here we present high-resolution images of total intensity, polarization, and spectral index of W49B. In large-scale morphology it is basically a box-shaped remnant expanding into an apparently inhomogeneous medium, but we also find small-scale structures, arcs and filaments, which lie interior to the outer shell in projection. The actual spatial position of the filaments is unknown, though we suspect that they are in the remnant interior rather than on the front or back face of the blast wave. In addition, their distribution in two dimensions suggests the projection of a helical structure. The shell edge, sharply rising in brightness for at least 3/4 of its circumference, still remains unresolved at our highest resolution (4 sec). This for our assumed distance of 8 kpc, the width of the region in which the emission appears is less than 0.16 pc, indicating short mean free paths for shock-accelerated electrons and high levels of MHD turbulence presumably causing the scattering. We find no polarized flux at 90 or 20 cm, with 3 sigma upper limits in polarized intensity of 36 mJy at 90 cm (45 sec resolution) and 7.2 mJy at 20 cm (5 sec resolution), or 22 micro-Jy/sq arcsec and 370 micro-jy/sq arcsec, respectively, for any emission extended on those scales. Polarized flux is present at 6 cm, but at a very low mean polarized fraction (total polarized flux divided by total flux) of 0.44% +/- 0.06%, which, as for 3C 391, is much lower than typical for bright SNRs at this frequency. The morphology in polarized intensity is poorly correlated with that in total intensity. We see excursions in the polarized fraction up to at least 10% in a few locations, but even where polarization is seen, typical levels are a few percent. Tangled or disordered magnetic fields in the emitting region of the radio shell may be responsible for depolarizing the radio synchrotron radiation, but some form of internal Faraday depolarization may also occur. We estimate the foreground Faraday rotation measure to be about -450 rad/sq m, similar to that found for 3C 391, which is also the Galactic plane and just about as distant. Spectral index images created from the total intensity images show that the spectral index across W49B is constant to within about Delta alpha approximately 0.1 in bright regions. This result weakly supports a common origin of the radio-emitting electrons, as in the blast wave, rather than in inhomogeneous turbulent regions of differing properties due to the stochastic (second-order Fermi) acceleration process. Variations at the level of Delta alpha approximately 0.1 are seen, but their significance is doubtful. New observations at 90 cm, using experimental three-dimensional imaging technology, may improve on this limit.