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  1. Abstract

    Questions regarding the energy dissipation in astrophysical jets remain open to date, despite numerous attempts to limit the diversity of the models. Some of the most popular models assume that energy is transferred to particles via internal shocks, which develop as a consequence of the nonuniform velocity of the jet matter. In this context, we study the structure and energy deposition of colliding plasma shells, focusing our attention on the case of initially inhomogeneous shells. This leads to the formation of distorted (corrugated) shock fronts—a setup that has recently been shown to revive particle acceleration in relativistic magnetized perpendicular shocks. Our study shows that the radiative power of the far downstream of nonrelativistic magnetized perpendicular shocks is moderately enhanced with respect to the flat-shock cases. Based on the decay rate of the downstream magnetic field, we make predictions for multiwavelength polarization properties.

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  2. Abstract

    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,σ, is high and the magnetic compactness,B, of the system is of order unity. In this regime,e±pair production from synchrotron photons is inevitable, and this process can regulate the magnetizationσsurrounding the current sheet. We investigate this self-regulation analytically and find a self-consistent steady state for a given magnetic compactness of the system and initial magnetization. This result helps estimate the self-consistent upstream magnetization in systems where plasma density is poorly constrained, and can be useful for a variety of astrophysical systems. As illustrative examples, we apply it to study the properties of reconnecting current sheets near the supermassive black hole of M87, as well as the equatorial current sheet outside the light cylinder of the Crab pulsar.

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  3. Abstract

    Magnetic reconnection in the relativistic regime has been proposed as an important process for the efficient production of nonthermal particles and high-energy emission. Using fully kinetic particle-in-cell simulations, we investigate how the guide-field strength and domain size affect the characteristic spectral features and acceleration processes. We study two stages of acceleration: energization up until the injection energyγinjand further acceleration that generates a power-law spectrum. Stronger guide fields increase the power-law index andγinj, which suppresses acceleration efficiency. These quantities seemingly converge with increasing domain size, suggesting that our findings can be extended to large-scale systems. We find that three distinct mechanisms contribute to acceleration during injection: particle streaming along the parallel electric field, Fermi reflection, and the pickup process. The Fermi and pickup processes, related to the electric field perpendicular to the magnetic field, govern the injection for weak guide fields and larger domains. Meanwhile, parallel electric fields are important for injection in the strong guide-field regime. In the post-injection stage, we find that perpendicular electric fields dominate particle acceleration in the weak guide-field regime, whereas parallel electric fields control acceleration for strong guide fields. These findings will help explain the nonthermal acceleration and emission in high-energy astrophysics, including black hole jets and pulsar wind nebulae.

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  4. Abstract

    We demonstrate using linear theory and particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations that a synchrotron-cooling collisionless plasma acquires pressure anisotropy and, if the plasma beta is sufficiently high, becomes unstable to the firehose instability, in a process that we dub the synchrotron firehose instability (SFHI). The SFHI channels free energy from the pressure anisotropy of the radiating, relativistic electrons (and/or positrons) into small-amplitude, kinetic-scale, magnetic-field fluctuations, which pitch-angle scatter the particles and bring the plasma to a near-thermal state of marginal instability. The PIC simulations reveal a nonlinear cyclic evolution of firehose bursts interspersed by periods of stable cooling. We compare the SFHI for electron–positron and electron–ion plasmas. As a byproduct of the growing electron-firehose magnetic-field fluctuations, magnetized ions gain a pressure anisotropy opposite to that of the electrons. If these ions are relativistically hot, we find that they also experience cooling due to collisionless thermal coupling with the electrons, which we argue is mediated by a secondary ion-cyclotron instability. We suggest that the SFHI may be activated in a number of astrophysical scenarios, such as within ejecta from black hole accretion flows and relativistic jets, where the redistribution of energetic electrons from low to high pitch angles may cause transient bursts of radiation.

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  5. Abstract

    The most common form of magnetar activity is short X-ray bursts, with durations from milliseconds to seconds, and luminosities ranging from 1036–1043erg s−1. Recently, an X-ray burst from the galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154 was detected to be coincident with two fast radio burst (FRB) like events from the same source, providing evidence that FRBs may be linked to magnetar bursts. Using fully 3D force-free electrodynamics simulations, we show that such magnetar bursts may be produced by Alfvén waves launched from localized magnetar quakes: a wave packet propagates to the outer magnetosphere, becomes nonlinear, and escapes the magnetosphere, forming an ultra-relativistic ejecta. The ejecta pushes open the magnetospheric field lines, creating current sheets behind it. Magnetic reconnection can happen at these current sheets, leading to plasma energization and X-ray emission. The angular size of the ejecta can be compact, ≲1 sr if the quake launching region is small, ≲0.01 sr at the stellar surface. We discuss implications for the FRBs and the coincident X-ray burst from SGR 1935+2154.

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  6. Abstract

    Relativistic magnetized jets, such as those from AGN, GRBs, and XRBs, are susceptible to current- and pressure-driven MHD instabilities that can lead to particle acceleration and nonthermal radiation. Here, we investigate the development of these instabilities through 3D kinetic simulations of cylindrically symmetric equilibria involving toroidal magnetic fields with electron–positron pair plasma. Generalizing recent treatments by Alves et al. and Davelaar et al., we consider a range of initial structures in which the force due to toroidal magnetic field is balanced by a combination of forces due to axial magnetic field and gas pressure. We argue that the particle energy limit identified by Alves et al. is due to the finite duration of the fast magnetic dissipation phase. We find a rather minor role of electric fields parallel to the local magnetic fields in particle acceleration. In all investigated cases, a kink mode arises in the central core region with a growth timescale consistent with the predictions of linearized MHD models. In the case of a gas-pressure-balanced (Z-pinch) profile, we identify a weak local pinch mode well outside the jet core. We argue that pressure-driven modes are important for relativistic jets, in regions where sufficient gas pressure is produced by other dissipation mechanisms.

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    Sgr A* exhibits flares in the near-infrared and X-ray bands, with the luminosity in these bands increasing by factors of 10–100 for ≈60 min. One of the models proposed to explain these flares is synchrotron emission of non-thermal particles accelerated by magnetic reconnection events in the accretion flow. We use the results from particle-in-cell simulations of magnetic reconnection to post-process 3D two-temperature GRMHD simulations of a magnetically arrested disc (MAD). We identify current sheets, retrieve their properties, estimate their potential to accelerate non-thermal particles, and compute the expected non-thermal synchrotron emission. We find that the flux eruptions of MADs can provide suitable conditions for accelerating non-thermal particles to energies γe ≲ 106 and producing simultaneous X-ray and near-infrared flares. For a suitable choice of current-sheet parameters and a simplified synchrotron cooling prescription, the model can simultaneously reproduce the quiescent and flaring X-ray luminosities as well as the X-ray spectral shape. While the near-infrared flares are mainly due to an increase in the temperature near the black hole during the MAD flux eruptions, the X-ray emission comes from narrow current sheets bordering highly magnetized, low-density regions near the black hole, and equatorial current sheets where the flux on the black hole reconnects. As a result, not all infrared flares are accompanied by X-ray ones. The non-thermal flaring emission can extend to very hard (≲ 100 keV) X-ray energies.

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    Magnetically arrested accretion discs (MADs) around black holes (BHs) have the potential to stimulate the production of powerful jets and account for recent ultra-high-resolution observations of BH environments. Their main properties are usually attributed to the accumulation of dynamically significant net magnetic (vertical) flux throughout the arrested region, which is then regulated by interchange instabilities. Here, we propose instead that it is mainly a dynamically important toroidal field – the result of dynamo action triggered by the significant but still relatively weak vertical field – that defines and regulates the properties of MADs. We suggest that rapid convection-like instabilities, involving interchange of toroidal flux tubes and operating concurrently with the magnetorotational instability (MRI), can regulate the structure of the disc and the escape of net flux. We generalize the convective stability criteria and disc structure equations to include the effects of a strong toroidal field and show that convective flows could be driven towards two distinct marginally stable states, one of which we associate with MADs. We confirm the plausibility of our theoretical model by comparing its quantitative predictions to simulations of both MAD and SANE (standard and normal evolution; strongly magnetized but not ‘arrested’) discs, and suggest a set of criteria that could help to distinguish MADs from other accretion states. Contrary to previous claims in the literature, we argue that MRI is not suppressed in MADs and is probably responsible for the existence of the strong toroidal field.

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  9. Abstract Relativistic collisionless shocks are associated with efficient particle acceleration when propagating into weakly magnetized homogeneous media; as the magnetization increases, particle acceleration becomes suppressed. We demonstrate that this changes when the upstream carries kinetic-scale inhomogeneities, as is often the case in astrophysical environments. We use fully kinetic simulations to study relativistic perpendicular shocks in magnetized pair plasmas interacting with upstream density perturbations. For amplitudes of δ ρ / ρ ≳ 0.5, the upstream fluctuations are found to corrugate the shock front and generate large-scale turbulent shear motions in the downstream, which in turn are capable of accelerating particles. This can revive relativistic magnetized shocks as viable energization sites in astrophysical systems, such as jets and accretion disks. The generation of large-scale magnetic structures also has important implications for polarization signals from blazars. 
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  10. Abstract The magnetorotational instability (MRI) is a fundamental mechanism determining the macroscopic dynamics of astrophysical accretion disks. In collisionless accretion flows around supermassive black holes, MRI-driven plasma turbulence cascading to microscopic (i.e., kinetic) scales can result in enhanced angular-momentum transport and redistribution, nonthermal particle acceleration, and a two-temperature state where electrons and ions are heated unequally. However, this microscopic physics cannot be captured with standard magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) approaches typically employed to study the MRI. In this work, we explore the nonlinear development of MRI turbulence in a pair plasma, employing fully kinetic particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations in two and three dimensions. First, we thoroughly study the axisymmetric MRI with 2D simulations, explaining how and why the 2D geometry produces results that differ substantially from 3D MHD expectations. We then perform the largest (to date) 3D simulations, for which we employ a novel shearing-box approach, demonstrating that 3D PIC models can reproduce the mesoscale (i.e., MHD) MRI dynamics in sufficiently large runs. With our fully kinetic simulations, we are able to describe the nonthermal particle acceleration and angular-momentum transport driven by the collisionless MRI. Since these microscopic processes ultimately lead to the emission of potentially measurable radiation in accreting plasmas, our work is of prime importance to understand current and future observations from first principles, beyond the limitations imposed by fluid (MHD) models. While in this first study we focus on pair plasmas for simplicity, our results represent an essential step toward designing more realistic electron–ion simulations, on which we will focus in future work. 
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