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  1. Abstract

    Magnetospheres of neutron stars can be perturbed by star quakes, interaction in a binary system, or sudden collapse of the star. The perturbations are typically in the kilohertz band and excite magnetohydrodynamic waves. We show that compressive magnetospheric waves steepen into monster shocks, possibly the strongest shocks in the Universe. The shocks are radiative, i.e., the plasma energy is radiated before it crosses the shock. As the kilohertz wave with the radiative shock expands through the magnetosphere, it produces a bright X-ray burst. Then, it launches an approximately adiabatic blast wave, which will expand far from the neutron star. These results suggest a new mechanism for X-ray bursts from magnetars and support the connection of magnetar X-ray activity with fast radio bursts. Similar shocks may occur in magnetized neutron-star binaries before they merge, generating an X-ray precursor of the merger. Powerful radiative shocks are also predicted in the magnetosphere of a neutron star when it collapses into a black hole, producing a bright X-ray transient.

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  2. Abstract

    The origin of pulsar radio emission is one of the old puzzles in theoretical astrophysics. In this Letter, we present a global kinetic plasma simulation that shows from first principles how and where radio emission can be produced in pulsar magnetospheres. We observe the self-consistent formation of electric gaps that periodically ignite electron-positron discharge. The gaps form above the polar cap and in the bulk return current. Discharge of the gaps excites electromagnetic modes, which share several features with the radio emission of real pulsars. We also observe the excitation of plasma waves and charge bunches by beam instabilities in the outer magnetosphere. Our numerical experiment demonstrates that global kinetic models can provide deep insight into the emission physics of pulsars and may help interpret their multiwavelength observations.

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  3. Abstract

    Recent X-ray polarimetric data on the prototypical black hole X-ray binary Cyg X-1 from the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer present tight constraints on accretion geometry in the hard spectral state. Contrary to general expectations of a low, ≲1% polarization degree (PD), the observed average PD was found to be a factor of 4 higher. Aligned with the jet position angle on the sky, the observed polarization favors geometry of the X-ray emission region stretched normally to the jet in the accretion disk plane. The high PD is, however, difficult to reconcile with the low orbital inclination of the binaryi≈ 30°. We suggest that this puzzle can be explained if the emitting plasma is outflowing with a mildly relativistic velocity ≳0.4c. Our radiative transfer simulations show that Comptonization in the outflowing medium elongated in the plane of the disk and radiates X-rays with the degree and direction of polarization consistent with observations ati≈ 30°.

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  4. Abstract

    We present a global kinetic plasma simulation of an axisymmetric pulsar magnetosphere with self-consistente±pair production. We use the particle-in-cell method and log-spherical coordinates with a grid size 4096 × 4096. This allows us to achieve a high voltage induced by the pulsar rotation and investigate pair creation in a young pulsar far from the death line. We find the following: (1) The energy release ande±creation are strongly concentrated in the thin, Y-shaped current sheet, with a peak localized in a small volume at the Y-point. (2) The Y-point is shifted inward from the light cylinder by ∼15% and “breathes” with a small amplitude. (3) The densee±cloud at the Y-point is in ultrarelativistic rotation, which we call superrotation, because it exceeds corotation with the star. The cloud receives angular momentum flowing from the star along the poloidal magnetic field lines. (4) Gamma-ray emission peaks at the Y-point and is collimated in the azimuthal direction, tangent to the Y-point circle. (5) The separatrix current sheet between the closed magnetosphere and the open magnetic field lines is sustained by the electron backflow from the Y-point cloud. Its thickness is self-regulated to marginal charge starvation. (6) Only a small fraction of dissipation occurs in the separatrix inward of the Y-point. A much higher power is released in the equatorial plane, including the Y-point where the created densee±plasma is spun up and intermittently ejected through the nozzle between the two open magnetic fluxes.

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  5. Abstract

    Nonlinear effects are crucial for the propagation of fast radio bursts (FRBs) near the source. We study the filamentation of FRBs in the relativistic winds of magnetars, which are commonly invoked as the most natural FRB progenitors. As a result of filamentation, the particle number density and radiation intensity develop strong gradients along the direction of the wind magnetic field. A steady state is reached when the plasma pressure balances the ponderomotive force. In such a steady state, particles are confined in periodically spaced thin sheets, and electromagnetic waves propagate between them as in a waveguide. We show the following. (i) The dispersion relation resembles that in the initial homogeneous plasma, but the effective plasma frequency is determined by the separation of the sheets, not directly by the mean particle density. (ii) The contribution of relativistic magnetar winds to the dispersion measure of FRBs could be several orders of magnitude larger than previously thought. The dispersion measure of the wind depends on the properties of individual bursts (e.g., the luminosity) and therefore can change significantly among different bursts from repeating FRBs. (iii) Induced Compton scattering is suppressed because most of the radiation propagates in near-vacuum regions.

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    We perform 2D particle-in-cell simulations of magnetic reconnection in electron-ion plasmas subject to strong Compton cooling and calculate the X-ray spectra produced by this process. The simulations are performed for trans-relativistic reconnection with magnetization 1 ≤ σ ≤ 3 (defined as the ratio of magnetic tension to plasma rest-mass energy density), which is expected in the coronae of accretion discs around black holes. We find that magnetic dissipation proceeds with inefficient energy exchange between the heated ions and the Compton-cooled electrons. As a result, most electrons are kept at a low temperature in Compton equilibrium with radiation, and so thermal Comptonization cannot reach photon energies $\sim 100\,$ keV observed from accreting black holes. Nevertheless, magnetic reconnection efficiently generates $\sim 100\,$ keV photons because of mildly relativistic bulk motions of the plasmoid chain formed in the reconnection layer. Comptonization by the plasmoid motions dominates the radiative output and controls the peak of the radiation spectrum Epk. We find Epk ∼ 40 keV for σ = 1 and Epk ∼ 100 keV for σ = 3. In addition to the X-ray peak around 100 keV, the simulations show a non-thermal MeV tail emitted by a non-thermal electron population generated near X-points of the reconnection layer. The results are consistent with the typical hard state of accreting black holes. In particular, we find that the spectrum of Cygnus X-1 is well explained by electron-ion reconnection with σ ∼ 3.

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  7. Abstract

    We perform particle-in-cell simulations to elucidate the microphysics of relativistic weakly magnetized shocks loaded with electron-positron pairs. Various external magnetizationsσ≲ 10−4and pair-loading factorsZ±≲ 10 are studied, whereZ±is the number of loaded electrons and positrons per ion. We find the following: (1) The shock becomes mediated by the ion Larmor gyration in the mean field whenσexceeds a critical valueσLthat decreases withZ±. AtσσLthe shock is mediated by particle scattering in the self-generated microturbulent fields, the strength and scale of which decrease withZ±, leading to lowerσL. (2) The energy fraction carried by the post-shock pairs is robustly in the range between 20% and 50% of the upstream ion energy. The mean energy per post-shock electron scales asE¯eZ±+11. (3) Pair loading suppresses nonthermal ion acceleration at magnetizations as low asσ≈ 5 × 10−6. The ions then become essentially thermal with mean energyE¯i, while electrons form a nonthermal tail, extending fromEZ±+11E¯itoE¯i. Whenσ= 0, particle acceleration is enhanced by the formation of intense magnetic cavities that populate the precursor during the late stages of shock evolution. Here, the maximum energy of the nonthermal ions and electrons keeps growing over the duration of the simulation. Alongside the simulations, we develop theoretical estimates consistent with the numerical results. Our findings have important implications for models of early gamma-ray burst afterglows.

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  8. Abstract Instabilities in a neutron star can generate Alfvén waves in its magnetosphere. Propagation along the curved magnetic field lines strongly shears the wave, boosting its electric current j A . We derive an analytic expression for the evolution of the wavevector k and the growth of j A . In the strongly sheared regime, j A may exceed the maximum current j 0 that can be supported by the background e ± plasma. We investigate these charge-starved waves, first using a simplified two-fluid analytic model, then with first-principles kinetic simulations. We find that the Alfvén wave is able to propagate successfully even when κ ≡ j A / j 0 ≫ 1. It sustains j A by compressing and advecting the plasma along the magnetic field lines with an increasing Lorentz factor, γ ≳ κ 1/2 . The simulations show how plasma instabilities lead to gradual dissipation of the wave energy. Our results suggest that an extremely high charge-starvation parameter κ ≳ 10 4 may be required in order for this mechanism to power the observed fast radio bursts (FRBs) from SGR 1935+2154. However, cosmological FRBs with much higher luminosities are unlikely to be a result of charge-starvation. 
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