Some of the most energetic pulsars exhibit rotation-modulated
Magnetic reconnection is ubiquitous in astrophysical systems, and in many such systems the plasma suffers from significant cooling due to synchrotron radiation. We study relativistic magnetic reconnection in the presence of strong synchrotron cooling, where the ambient magnetization,
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- The Astrophysical Journal
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- Article No. 173
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Some of the most energetic pulsars exhibit rotation-modulated
γ-ray emission in the 0.1–100 GeV band. The luminosity of this emission is typically 0.1%–10% of the pulsar spin-down power ( γ-ray efficiency), implying that a significant fraction of the available electromagnetic energy is dissipated in the magnetosphere and reradiated as high-energy photons. To investigate this phenomenon we model a pulsar magnetosphere using 3D particle-in-cell simulations with strong synchrotron cooling. We particularly focus on the dynamics of the equatorial current sheet where magnetic reconnection and energy dissipation take place. Our simulations demonstrate that a fraction of the spin-down power dissipated in the magnetospheric current sheet is controlled by the rate of magnetic reconnection at microphysical plasma scales and only depends on the pulsar inclination angle. We demonstrate that the maximum energy and the distribution function of accelerated pairs is controlled by the available magnetic energy per particle near the current sheet, the magnetization parameter. The shape and the extent of the plasma distribution is imprinted in the observed synchrotron emission, in particular, in the peak and the cutoff of the observed spectrum. We study how the strength of synchrotron cooling affects the observed variety of spectral shapes. Our conclusions naturally explain why pulsars with higher spin-down power have wider spectral shapes and, as a result, lower γ-ray efficiency.
The time evolution of high-energy synchrotron radiation generated in a relativistic pair plasma energized by reconnection of strong magnetic fields is investigated with 2D and 3D particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations. The simulations in this 2D/3D comparison study are conducted with the radiative PIC code OSIRIS, which self-consistently accounts for the synchrotron radiation reaction on the emitting particles, and enables us to explore the effects of synchrotron cooling. Magnetic reconnection causes compression of the plasma and magnetic field deep inside magnetic islands (plasmoids), leading to an enhancement of the flaring emission, which may help explain some astrophysical gamma-ray flare observations. Although radiative cooling weakens the emission from plasmoid cores, it facilitates additional compression there, further amplifying the magnetic field B and plasma density n, and thus partially mitigating this effect. Novel simulation diagnostics utilizing 2D histograms in the n-B space are developed and used to visualize and quantify the effects of compression. The n-B histograms are observed to be bounded by relatively sharp power-law boundaries marking clear limits on compression. Theoretical explanations for some of these compression limits are developed, rooted in radiative resistivity or 3D kinking instabilities. Systematic parameter-space studies with respect to guide magnetic field, system size, and upstream magnetization are conducted and suggest that stronger compression, brighter high-energy radiation, and perhaps significant quantum electrodynamic effects such as pair production, may occur in environments with larger reconnection-region sizes and higher magnetization, particularly when magnetic field strengths approach the critical (Schwinger) field, as found in magnetar magnetospheres.
Magnetic reconnection is often invoked as a source of high-energy particles, and in relativistic astrophysical systems it is regarded as a prime candidate for powering fast and bright flares. We present a novel analytical model—supported and benchmarked with large-scale three-dimensional kinetic particle-in-cell simulations in electron–positron plasmas—that elucidates the physics governing the generation of power-law energy spectra in relativistic reconnection. Particles with Lorentz factor
γ≳ 3 σ(here, σis the magnetization) gain most of their energy in the inflow region, while meandering between the two sides of the reconnection layer. Their acceleration time is , where ηrec≃ 0.06 is the inflow speed in units of the speed of light and ωc= eB0/ mcis the gyrofrequency in the upstream magnetic field. They leave the region of active energization after tesc, when they get captured by one of the outflowing flux ropes of reconnected plasma. We directly measure tescin our simulations and find that tesc∼ taccfor σ≳ few. This leads to a universal (i.e., σ-independent) power-law spectrum for the particles undergoing active acceleration, and for the overall particle population. Our results help to shed light on the ubiquitous presence of power-law particle and photon spectra in astrophysical nonthermal sources.
ABSTRACT High-energy astrophysical systems frequently contain collision-less relativistic plasmas that are heated by turbulent cascades and cooled by emission of radiation. Understanding the nature of this radiative turbulence is a frontier of extreme plasma astrophysics. In this paper, we use particle-in-cell simulations to study the effects of external inverse Compton radiation on turbulence driven in an optically thin, relativistic pair plasma. We focus on the statistical steady state (where injected energy is balanced by radiated energy) and perform a parameter scan spanning from low magnetization to high magnetization (0.04 ≲ σ ≲ 11). We demonstrate that the global particle energy distributions are quasi-thermal in all simulations, with only a modest population of non-thermal energetic particles (extending the tail by a factor of ∼2). This indicates that non-thermal particle acceleration (observed in similar non-radiative simulations) is quenched by strong radiative cooling. The quasi-thermal energy distributions are well fit by analytic models in which stochastic particle acceleration (due to, e.g. second-order Fermi mechanism or gyroresonant interactions) is balanced by the radiation reaction force. Despite the efficient thermalization of the plasma, non-thermal energetic particles do make a conspicuous appearance in the anisotropy of the global momentum distribution as highly variable, intermittent beams (for high magnetization cases). The beamed high-energy particles are spatially coincident with intermittent current sheets, suggesting that localized magnetic reconnection may be a mechanism for kinetic beaming. This beaming phenomenon may explain rapid flares observed in various astrophysical systems (such as blazar jets, the Crab nebula, and Sagittarius A*).more » « less
Using an MHD simulation of near tail reconnection associated with a flow burst and the collapse (dipolarization) of the inner tail in combination with test particle tracing we study the acceleration and flux increases of energetic oxygen ions (O+). The characteristic orbits, distributions, and acceleration mechanisms are governed by the dimensionless parameter
σ= ω ci t n, where ω ciis the ion gyro frequency and t na characteristic Alfvén time of the MHD simulation. For σ< 1, central plasma sheet (CPS) populations after the passage of the dipolarization front are found to resemble half‐shells in velocity space oriented toward dusk. They originate from within the CPS and are energized typically by a single encounter of the region of enhanced cross‐tail electric field associated with the flow burst. For larger σvalues ( σ> 1) the O+distributions resemble more closely those of protons, consisting of two counter‐streaming field‐aligned beams and an, albeit more tenuous and irregular, ring population perpendicular to the magnetic field. The existence of the beams, however, depends on suitable earthward moving source populations in the plasma sheet boundary layer or the adjacent lobes. The acceleration to higher energies is found to indicate a charge dependence, consistent with a dominance of more highly charged ions at energies of a few hundred keV. As in earlier simulations, the simulated fluxes show large anisotropies and nongyrotropic effects, phase bunching, and spatially and temporally localized beams.