First detection of frequency-dependent, time-variable dispersion measures

Abstract : Context. High-precision pulsar-timing experiments are affected by temporal variations of the dispersion measure (DM), which are related to spatial variations in the interstellar electron content and the varying line of sight to the source. Correcting for DM variations relies on the cold-plasma dispersion law which states that the dispersive delay varies with the squared inverse of the observing frequency. This may, however, give incorrect measurements if the probed electron content (and therefore the DM) varies with observing frequency, as is predicted theoretically due to the different refraction angles at different frequencies.Aims. We study small-scale density variations in the ionised interstellar medium. These structures may lead to frequency-dependent DMs in pulsar signals. Such an effect could inhibit the use of lower-frequency pulsar observations as tools to correct time-variable interstellar dispersion in higher-frequency pulsar-timing data.Methods. We used high-cadence, low-frequency observations with three stations from the German LOng-Wavelength (GLOW) consortium, which are part of the LOw-Frequency ARray (LOFAR). Specifically, 3.5 yr of weekly observations of PSR J2219+4754 are presented.Results. We present the first detection of frequency-dependent DMs towards any interstellar object and a precise multi-year time-series of the time- and frequency-dependence of the measured DMs. The observed DM variability is significant and may be caused by extreme scattering events. Potential causes for frequency-dependent DMs are quantified and evaluated.Conclusions. We conclude that frequency dependence of DMs has been reliably detected and is indeed caused by small-scale (up to tens of AUs) but steep density variations in the interstellar electron content. We find that long-term trends in DM variability equally affect DMs measured at both ends of our frequency band and hence the negative impact on long-term high-precision timing projects is expected to be limited.Key words: ISM: clouds / ISM: structure / pulsars: individual: PSR J2219+4754
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Submitted on : Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 6:58:31 PM
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J.Y. Donner, J.P.W. Verbiest, C. Tiburzi, S. Osłowski, D. Michilli, et al.. First detection of frequency-dependent, time-variable dispersion measures. Astron.Astrophys., 2019, 624, pp.A22. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/201834059⟩. ⟨hal-02051545⟩

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