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Title: Non-thermal electron acceleration in low Mach number collisionless shocks. I. Particle energy spectra and acceleration mechanism

Electron acceleration to non-thermal energies in low Mach number (M{sub s} ≲ 5) shocks is revealed by radio and X-ray observations of galaxy clusters and solar flares, but the electron acceleration mechanism remains poorly understood. Diffusive shock acceleration, also known as first-order Fermi acceleration, cannot be directly invoked to explain the acceleration of electrons. Rather, an additional mechanism is required to pre-accelerate the electrons from thermal to supra-thermal energies, so they can then participate in the Fermi process. In this work, we use two- and three-dimensional particle-in-cell plasma simulations to study electron acceleration in low Mach number shocks. We focus on the particle energy spectra and the acceleration mechanism in a reference run with M{sub s} = 3 and a quasi-perpendicular pre-shock magnetic field. We find that about 15% of the electrons can be efficiently accelerated, forming a non-thermal power-law tail in the energy spectrum with a slope of p ≅ 2.4. Initially, thermal electrons are energized at the shock front via shock drift acceleration (SDA). The accelerated electrons are then reflected back upstream where their interaction with the incoming flow generates magnetic waves. In turn, the waves scatter the electrons propagating upstream back toward the shock for further energizationmore » via SDA. In summary, the self-generated waves allow for repeated cycles of SDA, similarly to a sustained Fermi-like process. This mechanism offers a natural solution to the conflict between the bright radio synchrotron emission observed from the outskirts of galaxy clusters and the low electron acceleration efficiency usually expected in low Mach number shocks.« less
Authors:
;  [1] ;  [2]
  1. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (United States)
  2. NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellow. (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
22370387
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Astrophysical Journal; Journal Volume: 794; Journal Issue: 2; Other Information: Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
79 ASTROPHYSICS, COSMOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY; ACCELERATION; EFFICIENCY; ELECTRONS; EMISSION; ENERGY SPECTRA; GALAXY CLUSTERS; MACH NUMBER; MAGNETIC FIELDS; PLASMA SIMULATION; SHOCK WAVES; SOLAR FLARES; SYNCHROTRON RADIATION; THREE-DIMENSIONAL CALCULATIONS; X RADIATION