Tiny-scale structure discovered toward PSR B1557-50

Mengting Liu, Marko Krčo, Di Li, George Hobbs, J. R. Dawson, Carl Heiles, Andrew Jameson, Snežana Stanimirović, Simon Johnston, John M. Dickey

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Optical depth variations in the Galactic neutral interstellar medium (ISM) with spatial scales from hundreds to thousands of astronomical units have been observed through H i absorption against pulsars and continuum sources, while extremely small structures with spatial scales of tens of astronomical units remain largely unexplored. The nature and formation of such tiny-scale atomic structures (TSAS) need to be better understood. We report a tentative detection of TSAS with a signal-to-noise ratio of 3.2 toward PSR B1557-50 in the second epoch of two Parkes sessions just 0.36 yr apart, which are the closest-spaced spectral observations toward this pulsar. One absorption component showing marginal variations has been identified. Based on the pulsar's proper motion of 14 mas yr-1 and the component's kinematic distance of 3.3 kpc, the corresponding characteristic spatial scale is 17 au, which is among the smallest sizes of known TSAS. Assuming a similar line-of-sight (LOS) depth, the tentative TSAS cloud detected here is overdense and overpressured relative to the cold neutral medium (CNM), and can radiatively cool fast enough to be in thermal equilibrium with the ambient environment. We find that turbulence is not sufficient to confine the overpressured TSAS. We explore the LOS elongation that would be required for the tentative TSAS to be at the canonical CNM pressure, and find that it is ∼5000 - much larger than filaments observed in the ISM. We see some evidence of line width and temperature variations in the CNM components observed at the two epochs, as predicted by models of TSAS-like cloud formation colliding warm neutral medium flows.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL13
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2021


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