Particle acceleration in axisymmetric pulsar current sheets

Benoît Cerutti, Alexander Philippov, Kyle Parfrey, Anatoly Spitkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


The equatorial current sheet in pulsar magnetospheres is often regarded as an ideal site for particle acceleration via relativistic reconnection. Using 2D spherical particle-in-cell simulations, we investigate particle acceleration in the axisymmetric pulsar magnetosphere as a function of the injected plasma multiplicity and magnetization. We observe a clear transition from a highly charge-separated magnetosphere for low plasma injection with little current and spin-down power, to a nearly force-free solution for high plasma multiplicity characterized by a prominent equatorial current sheet and high spin-down power. We find significant magnetic dissipation in the current sheet, up to 30 per cent within 5 light-cylinder radii in the high-multiplicity regime. The simulations unambiguously demonstrate that the dissipated Poynting flux is efficiently channelled to the particles in the sheet, close to the Y-point within about 1-2 light-cylinder radii from the star. The mean particle energy in the sheet is given by the upstream plasma magnetization at the light cylinder. The study of particle orbits shows that all energetic particles originate from the boundary layer between the open and the closed field lines. Energetic positrons always stream outwards, while high-energy electrons precipitate back towards the star through the sheet and along the separatrices, which may result in auroral-like emission. Our results suggest that the current sheet and the separatrices may be the main source of high-energy radiation in young pulsars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)606-619
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 21 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Acceleration of particles
  • Magnetic reconnection
  • Methods: numerical
  • Outflows
  • Pulsars: general
  • Stars: winds


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