Particle-in-cell simulations of a nonlinear transverse electromagnetic wave in a pulsar wind termination shock

O. Skjæraasen, A. Melatos, Anatoly Spitkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A 2.5-dimensional particle-in-cell code is used to investigate the propagation of a large-amplitude, superluminal, nearly transverse electromagnetic (TEM) wave in a relativistically streaming electron-positron plasma with and without a shock. In the free-streaming, unshocked case, the analytic TEM dispersion relation is verified, and the streaming is shown to stabilize the wave against parametric instabilities. In the confined, shocked case, the wave induces strong, coherent particle oscillations, heats the plasma, and modifies the shock density profile via ponderomotive effects. The wave decays over ≳102 skin depths; the decay length scale depends primarily on the ratio between the wave frequency and the effective plasma frequency, and on the wave amplitude. The results are applied to the termination shock of the Crab pulsar wind, where the decay length-scale (≳0″.05 pc) might be comparable to the thickness of filamentary, variable substructure observed in the optical and X-ray wisps and knots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)542-546
Number of pages5
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Nov 20 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Plasmas
  • Pulsars: general
  • Pulsars: individual (Crab Pulsar)
  • Shock waves
  • Stars: neutron
  • Stars: winds, outflows


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