Synthetic spectra from particle-in-cell simulations of relativistic collisionless shocks

Lorenzo Sironi, Anatoly Spitkovsky

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101 Scopus citations


We extract synthetic photon spectra from first-principles particle-in-cell simulations of relativistic shocks propagating in unmagnetized pair plasmas. The two basic ingredients for the radiation, namely accelerated particles and magnetic fields, are produced self-consistently as part of the shock evolution. We use the method of Hededal & Nordlund and compute the photon spectrum via Fourier transform of the electric far field from a large number of particles, sampled directly from the simulation. We find that the spectrum from relativistic collisionless shocks is entirely consistent with synchrotron radiation in the magnetic fields generated by Weibel instability. We can recover the so-called "jitter" regime only if we artificially reduce the strength of the electromagnetic fields, such that the wiggler parameter K ≡ qBλ/mc2 becomes much smaller than unity (B and λ are the strength and scale of the magnetic turbulence, respectively). These findings may place constraints on the origin of non-thermal emission in astrophysics, especially for the interpretation of the hard (harder than synchrotron) low-frequency spectrum of gamma-ray bursts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L92-L96
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 2
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Acceleration of particles
  • Gamma rays: bursts
  • Radiation mechanisms: non-thermal
  • Shock waves


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