Detection of virial shocks in stacked Fermi-LAT clusters
2017 December 12
In the hierarchical paradigm of structure formation, galaxy clusters are the largest objects ever to virialize. They are thought to grow by accreting mass through large scale, strong virial shocks. Such a collisionless shock is expected to accelerate relativistic electrons, thus generating a spectrally flat leptonic virial ring.
However attempts to detect virial rings have all failed, leaving the shock paradigm unconfirmed. Here we identify a virial $\gamma$-ray signal by stacking Fermi-LAT data for 112 clusters, enhancing the ring sensitivity by rescaling clusters to their virial radii and utilizing the anticipated spectrum. In addition to a central unresolved, hard signal (detected at the nominal $5.8\sigma$ confidence level), probably dominated by active galactic nuclei, we identify ($5.9\sigma$) a bright, spectrally flat $\gamma$-ray ring at the expected shock position. It corresponds to $\sim 0.6\%$ (with an uncertainty factor $\sim2$) thermal energy deposition in relativistic electrons over a Hubble time. This result validates the shock paradigm, calibrates its parameters, and indicates that the cumulative emission from such shocks significantly contributes to the diffuse extragalactic $\gamma$-ray and radio backgrounds.