Two-stream-like instability in dilute hot relativistic beams and astrophysical relativistic shocks

Ehud Nakar, Antoine Bret, Miloš Milosavljević

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Relativistic collisionless shocks are believed to be efficient particle accelerators. Nonlinear outcome of the interaction of accelerated particles that run ahead of the shock, the so-called precursor, with the unperturbed plasma of the shock upstream, is thought to facilitate additional acceleration of these particles and to possibly modify the hydrodynamic structure of the shock. We explore here the linear growth of kinetic modes appearing in the precursor-upstream interaction in relativistic shocks propagating in non- and weakly magnetized plasmas: electrostatic two-stream parallel mode and electrostatic oblique modes. The physics of the parallel and oblique modes is similar, and thus, we refer to the entire spectrum of electrostatic modes as "two-stream-like." These modes are of particular interest because they are the fastest growing modes known in this type of system. Using a simplified distribution function for a dilute ultrarelativistic beam that is relativistically hot in its own rest frame, yet has momenta that are narrowly collimated in the frame of the cold upstream plasma into which it propagates, we identify the fastest growing mode in the full k-space and calculate its growth rate. We consider all types of plasma (pairs and ions-electrons) and beam (charged and charge-neutral). We find that unstable electrostatic modes are present in any type of plasma and for any shock parameters. We further find that two modes, one parallel (k = 0) and the other one oblique (), are competing for dominance and that either one may dominate the growth rate in different regions of the phase space. The dominant mode is determined mostly by the perpendicular spread of the accelerated particle momenta in the upstream frame, which reflects the shock Lorentz factor. The parallel mode becomes more dominant in shocks with lower Lorentz factors (i.e., with larger momentum spreads). We briefly discuss possible implications of our results for external shocks in gamma-ray burst sources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number93
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2011


  • acceleration of particles
  • cosmic rays
  • plasmas
  • shock waves

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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