Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
03 Nov 2008
 | 03 Nov 2008

The formation of relativistic plasma structures and their potential role in the generation of cosmic ray electrons

M. E. Dieckmann

Abstract. Recent particle-in-cell (PIC) simulation studies have addressed particle acceleration and magnetic field generation in relativistic astrophysical flows by plasma phase space structures. We discuss the astrophysical environments such as the jets of compact objects, and we give an overview of the global PIC simulations of shocks. These reveal several types of phase space structures, which are relevant for the energy dissipation. These structures are typically coupled in shocks, but we choose to consider them here in an isolated form. Three structures are reviewed. (1) Simulations of interpenetrating or colliding plasma clouds can trigger filamentation instabilities, while simulations of thermally anisotropic plasmas observe the Weibel instability. Both transform a spatially uniform plasma into current filaments. These filament structures cause the growth of the magnetic fields. (2) The development of a modified two-stream instability is discussed. It saturates first by the formation of electron phase space holes. The relativistic electron clouds modulate the ion beam and a secondary, spatially localized electrostatic instability grows, which saturates by forming a relativistic ion phase space hole. It accelerates electrons to ultra-relativistic speeds. (3) A simulation is also revised, in which two clouds of an electron-ion plasma collide at the speed 0.9c. The inequal densities of both clouds and a magnetic field that is oblique to the collision velocity vector result in waves with a mixed electrostatic and electromagnetic polarity. The waves give rise to growing corkscrew distributions in the electrons and ions that establish an equipartition between the electron, the ion and the magnetic energy. The filament-, phase space hole- and corkscrew structures are discussed with respect to electron acceleration and magnetic field generation.