MHD-PIC Simulations of Cosmic-Ray Scattering and Transport in Inhomogeneously Ionized Plasma

Christopher J. Bambic, Xue Ning Bai, Eve C. Ostriker

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10 Scopus citations


Cosmic rays (CRs) have critical impacts in the multiphase interstellar medium (ISM), driving dynamical motions in low-density plasma and modifying the ionization state, temperature, and chemical composition of higher-density atomic and molecular gas. We present a study of CR propagation in inhomogeneously ionized plasma, addressing CR transport issues that arise in the cloudy ISM. Using one-dimensional magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) particle-in-cell simulations that include ion-neutral drag to damp Alfvén waves in a portion of the simulation domain, we self-consistently evolve the kinetic physics of CRs and background gas MHD. By introducing a damping region in our periodic domain, our simulations break translational symmetry and allow the emergence of spatial gradients in the CR distribution function. A spatial gradient opposite to the CR flux forms across the fully ionized region as a result of pitch angle scattering. We connect our results with CR hydrodynamics formulations by computing the wave-particle scattering rates as predicted by quasilinear, fluid, and Fokker-Planck theory. For momenta where the mean free path is short relative to the box size, we find excellent agreement among all scattering rates. However, we also find evidence of a reduced scattering rate for less energetic particles that are subject to the μ = 0 barrier in our simulations. Our work provides a first-principles verification of CR hydrodynamics when particles stream down their pressure gradient and opens a pathway toward comprehensive calibrations of transport coefficients from self-generated Alfvén wave scattering with CRs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 20 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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