Kinetic turbulence in shining pair plasma: intermittent beaming and thermalization by radiative cooling

Research paper by Vladimir Zhdankin, Dmitri A. Uzdensky, Gregory R. Werner, Mitchell C. Begelman

Indexed on: 09 Sep '20Published on: 21 Aug '19Published in: arXiv - Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena


High-energy astrophysical systems frequently contain collisionless 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 ($0.04 \lesssim \sigma \lesssim 11$). We demonstrate that the global particle energy distributions are quasi-thermal in all simulations, with only a modest population of nonthermal energetic particles (extending the tail by a factor of $\sim 2$). This indicates that nonthermal 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, nonthermal 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*).