Steady state electrostatic layers from Weibel instability in relativistic collisionless shocks

Miloš Milosavljević, Ehud Nakar, Anatoly Spitkovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


It is generally accepted that magnetic fields generated in the nonlinear development of the transverse Weibel instability provide effective collisionality in unmagnetized collisionless shocks. Recently, extensive two- and three-dimensional simulations improved our understanding of the growth and saturation of the instability in colliding plasma shells. However, the steady state structure of the shock wave transition layers remains poorly understood. We use basic physical considerations and order-of-magnitude arguments to study the steady state structure in relativistic unmagnetized collisionless shocks in pair plasmas. The shock contains an electrostatic layer resulting from the formation of stationary, magnetically focused current filaments. The filaments form where the cold upstream plasma and the counterstreaming thermal plasma interpenetrate. The filaments are not entirely neutral, and strong electrostatic fields are present. Most of the downstream particles cannot cross this layer into the upstream medium because they are trapped by the electrostatic field. We identify the critical location in the shock transition layer where the electromagnetic field ceases to be static. At this location, the degree of charge separation in the filaments reaches a maximum value and the current inside the filaments comes close to the Alfvén limit. We argue that the radius of the current filaments upstream of the critical location is about equal to the upstream plasma skin depth. Finally, we show that some downstream particles cross the electrostatic layer and run ahead of the shock into the preshock medium without causing instability. These particles may play an important role in diffusive particle acceleration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)765-773
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Feb 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Instabilities
  • Magnetic fields
  • Plasmas
  • Shock waves


Dive into the research topics of 'Steady state electrostatic layers from Weibel instability in relativistic collisionless shocks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this