Revised pulsar spin-down

I. Contopoulos, Anatoly Spitkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


We address the issue of electromagnetic pulsar spin-down by combining our experience from the two limiting idealized cases that have been studied thoroughly in the past: that of an aligned rotator, in which ideal MHD conditions apply, and that of a misaligned rotator in vacuum. We construct a spin-down formula that takes into account the misalignment of the magnetic and rotation axes, and the magnetospheric particle acceleration gaps. We show that near the death line, aligned rotators spin down more slowly than orthogonal ones. In order to test this approach, we use a simple Monte Carlo method to simulate the evolution of pulsars and find a good fit to the observed pulsar distribution in the P-P diagram without invoking magnetic field decay. Our model may also account for individual pulsars spinning down with braking index n < 3, by allowing the corotating part of the magnetosphere to end inside the light cylinder. We discuss the role of magnetic reconnection in determining the pulsar braking index. We show, however, that n ∼ 3 remains a good approximation for the pulsar population as a whole. Moreover, we predict that pulsars near the death line have braking index values n > 3, and that the older pulsar population has preferentially smaller magnetic inclination angles. We discuss possible signatures of such alignment in the existing pulsar data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1139-1145
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Jun 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • MHD
  • Pulsars: general
  • Stars: rotation


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