Benoit Cerutti

Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, United States

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Publications (40)

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Polarization is a powerful diagnostic tool to constrain the site of the high-energy pulsed emission and particle acceleration in gamma-ray pulsars. Recent particle-in-cell simulations of pulsar magnetosphere suggest that high-energy emission results from particles accelerated in the equatorial current sheet emitting synchrotron radiation. In this study, we re-examine the simulation data to compute the phase-resolved polarization properties. We find that the emission is mildly polarized and that there is an anticorrelation between the flux and the degree of linear polarization (on-pulse: ∼15%, off-pulse: ∼30%). The decrease of polarization during pulses is mainly attributed to the formation of caustics in the current sheet. Each pulse of light is systematically accompanied by a rapid swing of the polarization angle due to the change of the magnetic polarity when the line of sight passes through the current sheet. The optical polarization pattern observed in the Crab can be well-reproduced for a pulsar inclination angle ∼60° and an observer viewing angle ∼130°. The predicted high-energy polarization is a robust feature of the current sheet emitting scenario which can be tested by future X-ray and gamma-ray polarimetry instruments.
    Article · Aug 2016 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Current models of gamma-ray lightcurves in pulsars suffer from large uncertainties on the precise location of particle acceleration and radiation. Here, we present an attempt to alleviate these difficulties by solving for the electromagnetic structure of the oblique magnetosphere, particle acceleration, and the emission of radiation self-consistently, using 3D spherical particle-in-cell simulations. We find that the low-energy radiation is synchro-curvature radiation from the polar-cap regions within the light cylinder. In contrast, the high-energy emission is synchrotron radiation that originates exclusively from the Y-point and the equatorial current sheet where relativistic magnetic reconnection accelerates particles. In most cases, synthetic high-energy lightcurves contain two peaks that form when the current sheet sweeps across the observer's line of sight. We find clear evidence of caustics in the emission pattern from the current sheet. High-obliquity solutions can present up to two additional secondary peaks from energetic particles in the wind region accelerated by the reconnection-induced flow near the current sheet. The high-energy radiative efficiency depends sensitively on the viewing angle, and decreases with increasing pulsar inclination. The high-energy emission is concentrated in the equatorial regions where most of the pulsar spindown is released and dissipated. These results have important implications for the interpretation of gamma-ray pulsar data.
    Article · Nov 2015 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It has recently been demonstrated that self-consistent particle-in-cell simulations of low-obliquity pulsar magnetospheres in flat spacetime show weak particle acceleration and no pair production near the poles. We investigate the validity of this conclusion in a more realistic spacetime geometry via general-relativistic particle-in-cell simulations of the aligned pulsar magnetospheres with pair formation. We find that the addition of frame-dragging effect makes local current density along the magnetic field larger than the Goldreich-Julian value, which leads to unscreened parallel electric fields and the ignition of a pair cascade. When pair production is active, we observe field oscillations in the open field bundle which could be related to pulsar radio emission. We conclude that general relativistic effects are essential for the existence of pulsar mechanism in low obliquity rotators.
    Article · Oct 2015
  • Krzysztof Nalewajko · Dmitri A. Uzdensky · Benoît Cerutti · [...] · Mitchell C. Begelman
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We investigate the distribution of particle acceleration sites during plasmoid-dominated, relativistic collisionless magnetic reconnection by analyzing the results of a particle-in-cell numerical simulation. The simulation is initiated with Harris-type current layers in pair plasma with no guide magnetic field, negligible radiative losses, no initial perturbation, and using periodic boundary conditions. We find that the plasmoids develop a robust internal structure, with colder dense cores and hotter outer shells, that is recovered after each plasmoid merger on a dynamical time scale. We use spacetime diagrams of the reconnection layers to probe the evolution of plasmoids, and in this context we investigate the individual particle histories for a representative sample of energetic electrons. We distinguish three classes of particle acceleration sites associated with (1) magnetic X-points, (2) regions between merging plasmoids, and (3) the trailing edges of accelerating plasmoids. We evaluate the contribution of each class of acceleration sites to the final energy distribution of energetic electrons -- magnetic X-points dominate at moderate energies, and the regions between merging plasmoids dominate at higher energies. We also identify the dominant acceleration scenarios, in order of decreasing importance -- (1) single acceleration between merging plasmoids, (2) single acceleration at a magnetic X-point, and (3) acceleration at a magnetic X-point followed by acceleration in a plasmoid. Particle acceleration is absent only in the vicinity of stationary plasmoids, and it can hardly be associated with magnetic mirrors due to the absence of plasmoid contraction after the initial stage of the simulation.
    Article · Aug 2015 · The Astrophysical Journal
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    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In this review we describe recent observational and theoretical developments in our understanding of pulsar winds and pulsar-wind nebulae (PWNe). We put special emphasis on the results from observations of well-characterized PWNe of various types (e.g., torus-jet and bowshock-tail), the most recent MHD modeling efforts, and the status of the flaring Crab PWN puzzle.
    Full-text Article · Jul 2015 · Space Science Reviews
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: This review discusses the physics of magnetic reconnection, a process in which the magnetic field topology changes and magnetic energy is converted to kinetic energy, in pair plasmas in the relativistic regime. We focus on recent progress in the field driven by theory advances and the maturity of particle-in-cell codes. This work shows that fragmentation instabilities at the current sheet can play a critical role in setting the reconnection speed and affect the resulting particle acceleration, anisotropy, bulk flows, and radiation. Then, we discuss how this novel understanding of relativistic reconnection can be applied to high-energy astrophysical phenomena, with an emphasis on pulsars, pulsar wind nebulae, and active galactic nucleus jets.
    Article · Dec 2014 · Space Science Reviews
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The equatorial current sheet in pulsar magnetospheres is often regarded as an ideal site for particle acceleration via relativistic reconnection. Using 2D spherical particle-in-cell simulations, we investigate particle acceleration in the axisymmetric pulsar magnetosphere as a function of the injected plasma multiplicity and magnetization. We observe a clear transition from a highly charge-separated magnetosphere for low plasma injection with little current and spin-down power, to a nearly force-free solution for high plasma multiplicity characterized by a prominent equatorial current sheet and high spin-down power. We find significant magnetic dissipation close to the Y-point, up to about 30% in the high-multiplicity regime. Additional dissipation occurs at larger distances where the kink instability deforms the layer significantly. The simulations unambiguously demonstrate that the dissipated Poynting flux is efficiently channeled to the particles in the sheet, close to the Y-point within about 1-2 light cylinder radii from the star. The mean particle energy in the sheet is given by the upstream plasma magnetization at the light cylinder. The study of particle orbits shows that all energetic particles originate from the boundary layer between the open and the closed field lines. Energetic positrons always stream outward, while high-energy electrons precipitate back towards the star through the sheet and along the separatrices, which may result in auroral-like emission. Our results suggest that the current sheet and the separatrices may be the main source of high-energy radiation in young pulsars.
    Article · Oct 2014 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • G. R. Werner · D. A. Uzdensky · B. Cerutti · [...] · M. C. Begelman
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Using two-dimensional particle-in-cell simulations, we characterize the energy spectra of particles accelerated by relativistic magnetic reconnection (without guide field) in collisionless electron-positron plasmas, for a wide range of upstream magnetizations $\sigma$ and system sizes $L$. The particle spectra are well-represented by a power law $\gamma^{-\alpha}$, with a combination of exponential and super-exponential high-energy cutoffs, proportional to $\sigma$ and $L$, respectively. For large $L$ and $\sigma$, the power-law index $\alpha$ approaches about 1.2.
    Article · Sep 2014
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The Crab Nebula was formed after the collapse of a massive star about a thousand years ago, leaving behind a pulsar that inflates a bubble of ultra-relativistic electron-positron pairs permeated with magnetic field. The observation of brief but bright flares of energetic gamma rays suggests that pairs are accelerated to PeV energies within a few days; such rapid acceleration cannot be driven by shocks. Here, it is argued that the flares may be the smoking gun of magnetic dissipation in the Nebula. Using 2D and 3D particle-in-cell simulations, it is shown that the observations are consistent with relativistic magnetic reconnection, where pairs are subject to strong radiative cooling. The Crab flares may highlight the importance of relativistic magnetic reconnection in astrophysical sources.
    Article · Jan 2014 · Physics of Plasmas
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The discovery of rapid synchrotron gamma-ray flares above 100 MeV from the Crab Nebula has attracted new interest in alternative particle acceleration mechanisms in pulsar wind nebulae. Diffuse shock-acceleration fails to explain the flares because particle acceleration and emission occur during a single or even sub-Larmor timescale. In this regime, the synchrotron energy losses induce a drag force on the particle motion that balances the electric acceleration and prevents the emission of synchrotron radiation above 160 MeV. Previous analytical studies and 2D particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations indicate that relativistic reconnection is a viable mechanism to circumvent the above difficulties. The reconnection electric field localized at X-points linearly accelerates particles with little radiative energy losses. In this paper, we check whether this mechanism survives in 3D, using a set of large PIC simulations with radiation reaction force and with a guide field. In agreement with earlier works, we find that the relativistic drift kink instability deforms and then disrupts the layer, resulting in significant plasma heating but few non-thermal particles. A moderate guide field stabilizes the layer and enables particle acceleration. We report that 3D magnetic reconnection can accelerate particles above the standard radiation reaction limit, although the effect is less pronounced than in 2D with no guide field. We confirm that the highest energy particles form compact bunches within magnetic flux ropes, and a beam tightly confined within the reconnection layer, which could result in the observed Crab flares when, by chance, the beam crosses our line of sight.
    Article · Nov 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
  • G. Dubus · B. Cerutti
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: PSR B1259-63 is a gamma-ray binary system composed of a high spindown pulsar and a massive star. Non-thermal emission up to TeV energies is observed near periastron passage, attributed to emission from high energy e+e- pairs accelerated at the shock with the circumstellar material from the companion star, resulting in a small-scale pulsar wind nebula. Weak gamma-ray emission was detected by the Fermi/LAT at the last periastron passage, unexpectedly followed 30 days later by a strong flare, limited to the GeV band, during which the luminosity nearly reached the spindown power of the pulsar. The origin of this GeV flare remains mysterious. We investigate whether the flare could have been caused by pairs, located in the vicinity of the pulsar, up-scattering X-ray photons from the surrounding pulsar wind nebula rather than UV stellar photons, as usually assumed. Such a model is suggested by the geometry of the interaction region at the time of the flare. We compute the gamma-ray lightcurve for this scenario, based on a simplified description of the interaction region, and compare it to the observations. The GeV lightcurve peaks well after periastron with this geometry. The pairs are inferred to have a Lorentz factor ~500. They also produce an MeV flare with a luminosity ~1e34 erg/s prior to periastron passage. A significant drawback is the very high energy density of target photons required for efficient GeV emission. We propose to associate the GeV-emitting pairs with the Maxwellian expected at shock locations corresponding to high pulsar latitudes, while the rest of the non-thermal emission arises from pairs accelerated in the equatorial region of the pulsar wind termination shock.
    Article · Aug 2013 · Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Magnetic reconnection converts magnetic field energy into particle kinetic energy, accelerating particles to sufficient energies to emit gamma-ray synchrotron radiation in astrophysical contexts, possibly including pulsar wind nebulae, Gamma-Ray Bursts, and blazar jets. A balance between acceleration (by the electric field E) and synchrotron braking (while orbiting a B-field line) limits particle energy so that synchrotron processes cannot emit photons above about 160 MeV, unless E > B. However, short, intense gamma-ray flares of much higher energies have recently been observed in the Crab nebula. This work demonstrates, using 2D simulations, that reconnection in relativistic electron-positron pair plasmas can accelerate particles in Speiser orbits around the magnetic null (where E > B) such that the particles can emit synchrotron photons above the 160 MeV limit. Furthermore, reconnection bunches particles and focuses them into beams; high-energy synchrotron radiation is also strongly beamed, and the sweeping of the beam across the observer's line of sight can explain the fast time variability of the flares.
    Article · Apr 2013
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It is generally accepted that astrophysical sources cannot emit synchrotron radiation above 160 MeV in their rest frame. This limit is given by the balance between the accelerating electric force and the radiation reaction force acting on the electrons. The discovery of synchrotron gamma-ray flares in the Crab Nebula, well above this limit, challenges this classical picture of particle acceleration. To overcome this limit, particles must accelerate in a region of high electric field and low magnetic field. This is possible only with a non-ideal magnetohydrodynamic process, like magnetic reconnection. We present the first numerical evidence of particle acceleration beyond the synchrotron burnoff limit, using a set of 2D particle-in-cell simulations of ultra-relativistic pair plasma reconnection. We use a new code, Zeltron, that includes self-consistently the radiation reaction force in the equation of motion of the particles. We demonstrate that the most energetic particles move back and forth across the reconnection layer, following relativistic Speiser orbits. These particles then radiate >160 MeV synchrotron radiation rapidly, within a fraction of a full gyration, after they exit the layer. Our analysis shows that the high-energy synchrotron flux is highly variable in time because of the strong anisotropy and inhomogeneity of the energetic particles. We discover a robust positive correlation between the flux and the cut-off energy of the emitted radiation, mimicking the effect of relativistic Doppler amplification. A strong guide field quenches the emission of >160 MeV synchrotron radiation. Our results are consistent with the observed properties of the Crab flares, supporting the reconnection scenario.
    Article · Feb 2013 · The Astrophysical Journal
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We report on the first study of energetic particles and radiation angular distributions generated in relativistic collisionless pair plasma reconnection, using 2.5-dimensional particle-incell simulations. We have discovered that the energetic particles are focused within a small solid angle, and bunched into compact regions inside magnetic islands. In addition, we find that the synchrotron radiation emitted by these particles, as seen by an external observer, is tightly beamed and variable on time scales much shorter than the light-crossing time of the system. This energy dependent "kinetic beaming" differs fundamentally from the achromatic Doppler beaming usually ascribed to relativistic jets. Our findings can account for the puzzling discoveries of bright, short flares seen in high-energy gamma rays, especially from the Crab Nebula and from blazars.
    Article · Dec 2012
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Magnetic reconnection is one of a few astrophysical mechanisms that can accelerate particles to energies sufficient to emit observable high-energy radiation. This work reports on 2D simulations of reconnection in relativistic electron-positron pair plasmas, which may power gamma-ray emission from pulsar wind nebulae (PWNe), Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs), and blazar jets. The most important new discovery is the strong, energy-dependent angular anisotropy and spatial inhomogeneity of accelerated particles: high-energy particles are bunched in space and focused into beams mostly confined to the reconnection layer midplane. Another important advance is the calculation of the associated radiative signatures (spectra and light curves) seen by a distant observer. The synchrotron and inverse Compton radiation from the high-energy particles is likewise focused in narrow beams. The beams sweep back and forth within the midplane, so that an observer sees intense bursts (only) when a beam crosses the line of sight. The resulting rapid variability, on timescales much shorter than the light-crossing time of the reconnection region, could explain the short, intense gamma-ray flares observed in blazar jets and PWNe, including the GeV flares recently discovered in the Crab nebula.
    Article · Oct 2012
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We report on the first study of the angular distribution of energetic particles and radiation generated in relativistic collisionless electron-positron pair plasma reconnection, using two-dimensional particle-in-cell simulations. We discover a strong anisotropy of the particles accelerated by reconnection and the associated strong beaming of their radiation. The focusing of particles and radiation increases with their energy; in this sense, this "kinetic beaming" effect differs fundamentally from the relativistic Doppler beaming usually invoked in high-energy astrophysics, in which all photons are focused and boosted achromatically. We also present, for the first time, the modeling of the synchrotron emission as seen by an external observer during the reconnection process. The expected lightcurves comprise several bright symmetric sub-flares emitted by the energetic beam of particles sweeping across the line of sight intermittently, and exhibit super-fast time variability as short as about one tenth of the system light-crossing time. The concentration of the energetic particles into compact regions inside magnetic islands and particle anisotropy explain the rapid variability. This radiative signature of reconnection can account for the brightness and variability of the gamma-ray flares in the Crab Nebula and in blazars.
    Article · May 2012 · The Astrophysical Journal Letters
  • Krzysztof Nalewajko · Mitchell C. Begelman · Benoit Cerutti · [...] · Marek Sikora
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We study theoretical implications of a rapid very high energy (VHE) flare detected by MAGIC in the flat spectrum radio quasar PKS 1222+216. The minimum distance from the jet origin at which this flare could be produced is 0.5 pc. A moderate Doppler factor of the VHE source, , is allowed by all opacity constraints. The concurrent high-energy (HE) emission observed by Fermi provides estimates of the total jet power and the jet magnetic field strength. Energetic constraints for the VHE flare are extremely tight: for an isotropic particle distribution, they require a huge comoving energy density in the emitting region and a very efficient radiative process. We disfavour hadronic processes due to their low radiative efficiency, as well as the synchrotron scenario recently proposed for the case of HE flares in the Crab nebula, since the parameters needed to overcome the radiative losses are quite extreme. The VHE emission can be explained by the synchrotron self-Compton mechanism for or by the external radiation Compton mechanism involving the infrared radiation of the dusty torus for . After discussing several alternative scenarios, we propose that the extreme energy density constraint can be satisfied when the emission comes from highly anisotropic short-lived bunches of particles formed by the kinetic beaming mechanism in magnetic reconnection sites. By focusing the emitting particles into very narrow beams, this mechanism allows one to relax the causality constraint on the source size, decreasing the required energy density by four orders of magnitude.
    Article · Feb 2012 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • Benoit Cerutti · D. A. Uzdensky · M. C. Begelman
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The discovery by Agile and Fermi of intense day-long synchrotron gamma-ray flares above 100 MeV in the Crab Nebula challenges classical models of pulsar wind nebulae and particle acceleration. We argue that the flares are powered by magnetic reconnection in the nebula. Using relativistic test-particle simulations, we show that particles are naturally focused into a thin fan beam, deep inside the reconnection layer where the magnetic field is small. The particles then suffer less from synchrotron losses and pile up at the maximum energy given by the electric potential drop in the layer. Applying this model to the Crab Nebula, we find that the emerging synchrotron emission spectrum above 100 MeV is consistent with the September 2010 flare observations. No detectable emission is expected at other wavelengths. This scenario provides a viable explanation for the Crab Nebula gamma-ray flares.
    Article · Jan 2012
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We study models of the gamma-ray emission of Cyg X-3 observed by Fermi. We calculate the average X-ray spectrum during the gamma-ray active periods. Then, we calculate spectra from Compton scattering of a photon beam into a given direction by isotropic relativistic electrons with a power-law distribution, both based on the Klein-Nishina cross section and in the Thomson limit. Applying the results to scattering of stellar blackbody radiation in the inner jet of Cyg X-3, we find that a low-energy break in the electron distribution at a Lorentz factor of ~ 300--1000 is required by the shape of the observed X-ray/gamma-ray spectrum in order to avoid overproducing the observed X-ray flux. The electrons giving rise to the observed \g-rays are efficiently cooled by Compton scattering, and the power-law index of the acceleration process is ~ 2.5--3. The bulk Lorentz factor of the jet and the kinetic power before the dissipation region depend on the fraction of the dissipation power supplied to the electrons; if it is ~ 1/2, the Lorentz factor is ~ 2.5, and the kinetic power is ~ 10^38 erg/s, which represents a firm lower limit on the jet power, and is comparable to the bolometric luminosity of Cyg X-3. Most of the power supplied to the electrons is radiated. The broad band spectrum constrains the synchrotron and self-Compton emission from the gamma-ray emitting electrons, which requires the magnetic field to be relatively weak, with the magnetic energy density < a few times 10^-3 of that in the electrons. The actual value of the magnetic field strength can be inferred from a future simultaneous measurement of the IR and gamma-ray fluxes.
    Article · Nov 2011 · Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • Dmitri Uzdensky · Benoit Cerutti · Mitchell Begelman
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recent discovery of gamma-ray flares in the Crab Nebula challenges traditional relativistic particle acceleration models. These flares are presumably produced by PeV electrons radiating >100 MeV synchrotron photons in a milli-gauss magnetic field. In traditional models, where the accelerating electric field is smaller than the magnetic field, synchrotron radiation cannot exceed 100 MeV because radiative losses balance the acceleration rate. We propose that linear electric acceleration in a magnetic reconnection layer can resolve this difficulty. The gyroradii of PeV electrons are so large that their motion is insensitive to small-scale turbulent structures and is controlled only by large-scale fields. As these particles are accelerated by the reconnection electric field, their relativistic Speiser-like orbits collapse deep into the layer and get focused into a tight beam. Furthermore, since perpendicular magnetic field is small inside the layer, the radiation reaction there is suppressed, so the particles can reach higher energies and emit synchrotron radiation in excess of the 100 MeV limit, resolving the Crab gamma-ray flare paradox.
    Article · Nov 2011

Publication Stats

467 Citations


  • 2014-2015
    • Princeton University
      • Department of Astrophysical Sciences
      Princeton, New Jersey, United States
  • 2011-2013
    • University of Colorado at Boulder
      • Department of Physics
      Boulder, Colorado, United States
  • 2010
    • University of Colorado
      Denver, Colorado, United States
    • University of Grenoble
      Grenoble, Rhône-Alpes, France
  • 2007
    • University Joseph Fourier - Grenoble 1
      Grenoble, Rhône-Alpes, France