The role of magnetic field dissipation in the black hole candidate Sagittarius A*

Robert F. Coker, Fulvio Melia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The compact, nonthermal radio source Sgr A* at the Galactic center appears to be coincident with a ∼2.6 × 106 M pointlike object. Its energy source may be the release of gravitational energy as gas from the interstellar medium descends into its deep potential well. However, simple attempts at calculating the radiative spectrum and flux based on this picture have come tantalizingly close to the observations, yet have had difficulty in accounting for the unusually low efficiency in this source. Regardless of whether the radiating particles in the accretion flow are thermal or nonthermal, there now appear to be two principal reasons for this low conversion rate of dissipated energy into radiation: (1) the plasma separates into two temperatures, with the protons attaining a significantly higher temperature than that of the radiating electrons; and (2) the magnetic field B is subequipartition, which reduces the magnetic bremsstrahlung emissivity, and therefore the overall power of Sgr A*. In this paper, we investigate the latter with a considerable improvement over what has been attempted before. In particular, rather than calculating B based on some presumed model (e.g., equipartition with the thermal energy of the gas), we instead infer its distribution with radius empirically with the requirement that the resulting spectrum matches the observations. Our assumed Ansatz for B(r) is motivated in part by earlier calculations of the expected magnetic dissipation rate due to reconnection in a compressed flow. We find reasonable agreement with the observed spectrum of Sgr A* as long as its distribution consists of three primary components: an outer equipartition field, a roughly constant field at intermediate radii (∼103 Schwarzschild radii), and an inner dynamo (more or less within the last stable orbit for a nonrotating black hole), which increases B to about 100 G. The latter component accounts very well for the observed submillimiter hump in this source.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)723-733
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART 1
StatePublished - May 10 2000


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxy: center
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Magnetic fields
  • Plasmas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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