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Journal Article

Superluminal waves in pulsar winds


Kirk,  John G.
Division Prof. Dr. Werner Hofmann, MPI for Nuclear Physics, Max Planck Society;

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Arka, I., & Kirk, J. G. (2012). Superluminal waves in pulsar winds. The Astrophysical Journal, 745(2): 108, pp. 1-11. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/745/2/108.

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The energy lost by a rotation-powered pulsar is carried by a relativistic flow containing a mixture of electromagnetic fields and particles. In the inner regions, this is thought to be a magnetically dominated, cold, electron-positron wind that is well described by the MHD equations. However, beyond a critical radius r_{cr}, the same particle, energy and momentum fluxes can be transported by a strong, transverse electromagnetic wave with superluminal phase speed. We analyze the nonlinear dispersion relation of these waves for linear and circular polarization, and find the dependence of r_{cr} on the mass-loading, magnetization and luminosity of the flow, as well as on the net magnetic flux. We show that, for most isolated pulsars, the wind lies well outside r_{cr}, and speculate that superluminal modes play an important role in the dissipation of electromagnetic energy into nonthermal particles at the termination shock.