Effects of Synchrotron Cooling and Pair Production on Collisionless Relativistic Reconnection

Hayk Hakobyan, Alexander Philippov, Anatoly Spitkovsky

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46 Scopus citations


High-energy radiation from nonthermal particles accelerated in relativistic magnetic reconnection is thought to be important in many astrophysical systems, ranging from blazar jets and black hole accretion disk coronae to pulsars and magnetar flares. The presence of a substantial density of high-energy photons (>MeV) in these systems can make two-photon pair production (γγ → e - e +) an additional source of plasma particles and can affect the radiative properties of these objects. We present the results of novel particle-in-cell simulations that track both the radiated synchrotron photons and the created pairs, with which we study the evolution of a two-dimensional reconnecting current sheet in pair plasma. Synchrotron radiation from accelerated particles in the current sheet produces hot secondary pairs in the upstream, which are later advected into the current sheet where they are reaccelerated and produce more photons. In the optically thin regime, when most of the radiation is leaving the upstream unaffected, this process is self-regulating and depends only on the background magnetic field and the optical depth of photons to pair production. The extra plasma loading also affects the properties of reconnection. We study how the inflow of the secondary plasma, with multiplicities up to several hundred, reduces the effective magnetization of the plasma, suppressing the acceleration and thus decreasing the high-energy photon spectrum cutoff. This offers an explanation for the weak dependence of the observed gamma-ray cutoff in pulsars on the magnetic field at the light cylinder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • acceleration of particles
  • gamma rays: stars
  • magnetic reconnection
  • plasmas
  • pulsars: general
  • radiation mechanisms: non-thermal


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