The Fermi bubbles: Supersonic active galactic nucleus jets with anisotropic cosmic-ray diffusion

H. Y.K. Yang, M. Ruszkowski, P. M. Ricker, E. Zweibel, D. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope reveals two large bubbles in the Galaxy, which extend nearly symmetrically ∼50° above and below the Galactic center. Using three-dimensional (3D) magnetohydrodynamic simulations that self-consistently include the dynamical interaction between cosmic rays (CRs) and thermal gas and anisotropic CR diffusion along the magnetic field lines, we show that the key characteristics of the observed gamma-ray bubbles and the spatially correlated X-ray features in the ROSAT 1.5 keV map can be successfully reproduced by recent jet activity from the central active galactic nucleus. We find that after taking into account the projection of the 3D bubbles onto the sky the physical heights of the bubbles can be much smaller than previously thought, greatly reducing the formation time of the bubbles to about a Myr. This relatively small bubble age is needed to reconcile the simulations with the upper limit of bubble ages estimated from the cooling time of high-energy electrons. No additional physical mechanisms are required to suppress large-scale hydrodynamic instabilities because the evolution time is too short for them to develop. The simulated CR bubbles are edge-brightened, which is consistent with the observed projected flat surface brightness distribution. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the sharp edges of the observed bubbles can be due to anisotropic CR diffusion along magnetic field lines that drape around the bubbles during their supersonic expansion, with suppressed perpendicular diffusion across the bubble surface. Possible causes of the slight bends of the Fermi bubbles to the west are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number185
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 10 2012


  • Galaxy: nucleus
  • cosmic rays
  • diffusion
  • gamma rays: galaxies
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • methods: numerical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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