Magnetohydrodynamic Particle-in-cell Simulations of the Cosmic-Ray Streaming Instability: Linear Growth and Quasi-linear Evolution

Xue Ning Bai, Eve Charis Ostriker, Illya Plotnikov, James McLellan Stone

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The gyro-resonant cosmic-ray (CR) streaming instability is believed to play a crucial role in CR transport, leading to the growth of Alfvén waves at small scales that scatter CRs, and impacts the interaction of CRs with the interstellar medium (ISM) on large scales. However, extreme scale separation (λ ≪ pc), low CR number density (n CR/n ISM ∼ 10-9), and weak CR anisotropy (∼v A/c) pose strong challenges for proper numerical studies of this instability on a microphysical level. Employing the recently developed magnetohydrodynamic particle-in-cell method, which has unique advantages to alleviate these issues, we conduct 1D simulations that quantitatively demonstrate the growth and saturation of the instability in the parameter regime consistent with realistic CR streaming in the large-scale ISM. Our implementation of the δf method dramatically reduces Poisson noise and enables us to accurately capture wave growth over a broad spectrum equally shared between left- and right-handed Alfvén modes. We are also able to accurately follow the quasi-linear diffusion of CRs subsequent to wave growth, which is achieved by employing phase randomization across periodic boundaries. Full isotropization of the CRs in the wave frame requires the pitch angles of most CRs to efficiently cross 90° and can be captured in simulations with relatively high wave amplitude and/or spatial resolution. We attribute this crossing to nonlinear wave-particle interaction (rather than mirror reflection) by investigating individual CR trajectories. We anticipate that our methodology will open up opportunities for future investigations that incorporate additional physics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number60
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • cosmic rays
  • instabilities
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • methods: numerical
  • plasmas


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