Production and Persistence of Extreme Two-temperature Plasmas in Radiative Relativistic Turbulence

Vladimir Zhdankin, Dmitri A. Uzdensky, Matthew W. Kunz

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21 Scopus citations


Turbulence is a predominant process for energizing electrons and ions in collisionless astrophysical plasmas, and thus is responsible for shaping their radiative signatures (luminosity, spectra, and variability). To better understand the kinetic properties of a collisionless radiative plasma subject to externally driven turbulence, we investigate particle-in-cell simulations of relativistic plasma turbulence with external inverse Compton cooling acting on the electrons. We find that ions continuously heat up while electrons gradually cool down (due to the net effect of radiation), and hence the ion-to-electron temperature ratio T i /T e grows in time. We show that T i /T e is limited only by the size and duration of the simulations (reaching ), indicating that there are no efficient collisionless mechanisms of electron-ion thermal coupling. This result has implications for models of radiatively inefficient accretion flows, such as observed in the Galactic center and in M87, for which so-called two-temperature plasmas with have been invoked to explain their low luminosity. Additionally, we find that electrons acquire a quasi-thermal distribution (dictated by the competition of turbulent particle energization and radiative cooling), while ions undergo efficient nonthermal acceleration (acquiring a harder distribution than in equivalent nonradiative simulations). There is a modest nonthermal population of high-energy electrons that are beamed intermittently in space, time, and direction; these beamed electrons may explain rapid flares in certain high-energy astrophysical systems (e.g., in the Galactic center). These numerical results demonstrate that extreme two-temperature plasmas can be produced and maintained by relativistic radiative turbulence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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