The role of magnetic fields in the interstellar medium of the Milky Way
NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics; National Research Council Canada
Space Science Reviews
Galactic radio emission; polarization; magnetic fields; Faraday rotation; rotation measure synthesis; interstellar medium
Synchrotron radiation is generated throughout the Milky Way. It fills the sky, and carries with it the imprint of the magnetic field at the point of origin and along the propagation path. Observations of the diffuse polarized radio emission should be able to provide information on Galactic magnetic fields with detail matching the angular resolution of the telescope. I review what has been learned from existing data, but the full potential cannot be realized from current observations because they do not adequately sample the frequency structure of the polarized emission, or they lack information on large-scale structure. I discuss three surveys, each overcoming one of these limitations, and show how use of complementary data on other ISM tracers can help elucidate the role of magnetic fields in interstellar processes. The focus of this review is on the small-scale field, on sizes comparable with the various forms of interaction of stars with their surroundings. The future is bright for this field of research as new telescopes are being built, designed for the survey mode of observation, equipped for wideband, multichannel polarization observations.