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  1. We study within a fully kinetic framework the generation of “seed” magnetic fields through the Weibel instability, driven in an initially unmagnetized plasma by a large-scale shear force. We develop an analytical model that describes the development of thermal pressure anisotropy via phase mixing, the ensuing exponential growth of magnetic fields in the linear Weibel stage, and the saturation of the Weibel instability when the seed magnetic fields become strong enough to instigate gyromotion of particles and thereby inhibit their free-streaming. The predicted scaling dependencies of the saturated fields on key parameters (e.g., ratio of system scale to electron skin depth and forcing amplitude) are confirmed by two-dimensional and three-dimensional particle-in-cell simulations of an electron–positron plasma. This work demonstrates the spontaneous magnetization of a collisionless plasma through large-scale motions as simple as a shear flow and therefore has important implications for magnetogenesis in dilute astrophysical systems.
  2. 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.
  3. Magnetic reconnection, a plasma process converting magnetic energy to particle kinetic energy, is often invoked to explain magnetic energy releases powering high-energy flares in astrophysical sources including pulsar wind nebulae and black hole jets. Reconnection is usually seen as the (essentially two-dimensional) nonlinear evolution of the tearing instability disrupting a thin current sheet. To test how this process operates in three dimensions, we conduct a comprehensive particle-in-cell simulation study comparing two- and three-dimensional evolution of long, thin current sheets in moderately magnetized, collisionless, relativistically hot electron–positron plasma, and find dramatic differences. We first systematically characterize this process in two dimensions, where classic, hierarchical plasmoid-chain reconnection determines energy release, and explore a wide range of initial configurations, guide magnetic field strengths and system sizes. We then show that three-dimensional (3-D) simulations of similar configurations exhibit a diversity of behaviours, including some where energy release is determined by the nonlinear relativistic drift-kink instability. Thus, 3-D current sheet evolution is not always fundamentally classical reconnection with perturbing 3-D effects but, rather, a complex interplay of multiple linear and nonlinear instabilities whose relative importance depends sensitively on the ambient plasma, minor configuration details and even stochastic events. It often yields slower but longer-lasting andmore »ultimately greater magnetic energy release than in two dimensions. Intriguingly, non-thermal particle acceleration is astonishingly robust, depending on the upstream magnetization and guide field, but otherwise yielding similar particle energy spectra in two and three dimensions. Although the variety of underlying current sheet behaviours is interesting, the similarities in overall energy release and particle spectra may be more remarkable.« less
  4. ABSTRACT Turbulent high-energy astrophysical systems often feature asymmetric energy injection: for instance, Alfvén waves propagating from an accretion disc into its corona. Such systems are ‘imbalanced’: the energy fluxes parallel and antiparallel to the large-scale magnetic field are unequal. In the past, numerical studies of imbalanced turbulence have focused on the magnetohydrodynamic regime. In this study, we investigate externally driven imbalanced turbulence in a collision-less, ultrarelativistically hot, magnetized pair plasma using 3D particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations. We find that the injected electromagnetic momentum efficiently converts into plasma momentum, resulting in net motion along the background magnetic field with speeds up to a significant fraction of lightspeed. This discovery has important implications for the launching of accretion disc winds. We also find that although particle acceleration in imbalanced turbulence operates on a slower time-scale than in balanced turbulence, it ultimately produces a power-law energy distribution similar to balanced turbulence. Our results have ramifications for black hole accretion disc coronae, winds, and jets.
  5. 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 (formore »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*).« less