Sharp polarimetric eyes: More trees than forest?

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10 Scopus citations


The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (Fermi) has focused the intensive multi-wavelength and international observational effort on blazars since it was launched in 2008. Part of this effort involves systematic monitoring of the highly variable polarization of the continuum emission from these objects. These observations are valuable in that they provide direct information on the degree of ordering and orientation on the sky of the magnetic field within the non-thermal emission region(s). Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to measure the polarization of the inverse-Compton continuum, only that of the lower-energy synchrotron emission. The inability to directly compare the polarization of the two dominant continuum sources in blazars is a drawback and leads to more ambiguities in determining their relative locations. There are many compelling examples of strong connections between γ -ray, X-ray, UV/optical/IR, and radio behavior in blazars that suggest the same region produces much of the observed emission at all wavelengths at least some of the time. However, the wealth of polarization behavior seen relative to flux changes invariably results in a complex situation that is difficult to interpret and model. The long-term blazar monitoring program undertaken at Steward Observatory is designed to primarily obtain accurate optical polarimetry of γ -ray-bright blazars during the Fermi mission with the goal of gaining important insights into the jet structure and physics of these objects. Data from this program are available to all researchers as soon as reductions are completed. I briefly detail the current status and progress of the program and the data products available. Although the wide variety of polarization behavior in blazars adds another layer of complexity to an already difficult problem, I summarize several important conclusions that can be drawn from the polarization information gathered during the Fermi era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: active
  • Non-thermal
  • Polarization
  • Radiation mechanisms
  • Spectroscopic
  • Techniques

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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