Modelling high-energy pulsar light curves from first principles

Benoit Cerutti, Alexander A. Philippov, Anatoly Spitkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Current models of gamma-ray light curves in pulsars suffer from large uncertainties on the precise location of particle acceleration and radiation. Here, we present an attempt to alleviate these difficulties by solving for the electromagnetic structure of the oblique magnetosphere, particle acceleration, and the emission of radiation self-consistently, using 3D spherical particle-in-cell simulations. We find that the low-energy radiation is synchro-curvature radiation from the polar-cap regions within the light cylinder. In contrast, the high-energy emission is synchrotron radiation that originates exclusively from the Y-point and the equatorial current sheet where relativistic magnetic reconnection accelerates particles. In most cases, synthetic high-energy light curves contain two peaks that form when the current sheet sweeps across the observer's line of sight.We find clear evidence of caustics in the emission pattern from the current sheet. High-obliquity solutions can present up to two additional secondary peaks from energetic particles in the wind region accelerated by the reconnection-induced flow near the current sheet. The high-energy radiative efficiency depends sensitively on the viewing angle, and decreases with increasing pulsar inclination. The high-energy emission is concentrated in the equatorial regions where most of the pulsar spin-down is released and dissipated. These results have important implications for the interpretation of gamma-ray pulsar data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2401-2414
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 11 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Acceleration of particles
  • Magnetic reconnection
  • Pulsars: general
  • Radiation mechanisms: nonthermal
  • Stars: winds, outflows
  • methods: numerical


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