Magnetic field amplification and electron acceleration to near-energy equipartition with ions by a mildly relativistic quasi-parallel plasma protoshock

G. C. Murphy, M. E. Dieckmann, A Bret, L. O'C. Drury

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Context. The prompt emissions of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are seeded by radiating ultrarelativistic electrons. Kinetic energy dominated internal shocks propagating through a jet launched by a stellar implosion, are expected to dually amplify the magnetic field and accelerate electrons.Aims. We explore the effects of density asymmetry and of a quasi-parallel magnetic field on the collision of two plasma clouds.Methods. A two-dimensional relativistic particle-in-cell (PIC) simulation models the collision with 0.9c of two plasma clouds, in the presence of a quasi-parallel magnetic field. The cloud density ratio is 10. The densities of ions and electrons and the temperature of 131 keV are equal in each cloud, and the mass ratio is 250. The peak Lorentz factor of the electrons is determined, along with the orientation and the strength of the magnetic field at the cloud collision boundary.Results. The magnetic field component orthogonal to the initial plasma flow direction is amplified to values that exceed those expected from the shock compression by over an order of magnitude. The forming shock is quasi-perpendicular due to this amplification, caused by a current sheet which develops in response to the differing deflection of the upstream electrons and ions incident on the magnetised shock transition layer. The electron deflection implies a charge separation of the upstream electrons and ions; the resulting electric field drags the electrons through the magnetic field, whereupon they acquire a relativistic mass comparable to that of the ions. We demonstrate how a magnetic field structure resembling the cross section of a flux tube grows self-consistently in the current sheet of the shock transition layer. Plasma filamentation develops behind the shock front, as well as signatures of orthogonal magnetic field striping, indicative of the filamentation instability. These magnetic fields convect away from the shock boundary and their energy density exceeds by far the thermal pressure of the plasma. Localized magnetic bubbles form.Conclusions. Energy equipartition between the ion, electron and magnetic energy is obtained at the shock transition layer. The electronic radiation can provide a seed photon population that can be energized by secondary processes (e.g. inverse Compton).
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA84
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Acceleration of particles –
  • Shock waves
  • Magnetic fields
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • Methods: numerical
  • Gamma rays: general


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