Pulsar Current Sheets - Electron & Positron Flows

  • Released Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
  • Updated Wednesday, November 15th, 2023 at 12:11AM
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Scientists studying what amounts to a computer-simulated “pulsar in a box” are gaining a more detailed understanding of the complex, high-energy environment around spinning neutron stars, also called pulsars. The model traces the paths of charged particles in magnetic and electric fields near the neutron star, revealing behaviors that may help explain how pulsars emit gamma-ray and radio pulses with ultraprecise timing.

A pulsar is the crushed core of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. The core is so compressed that more mass than the Sun's squeezes into a ball no wider than Manhattan Island in New York City. This process also revvs up its rotation and strengthens its magnetic and electric fields.

Various physical processes ensure that most of the particles around a pulsar are either electrons or their antimatter counterparts, positrons. To trace the behavior and energies of these particles, the researchers used a comparatively new type of pulsar model called a “particle in cell” (PIC) simulation.

The PIC technique lets scientists explore the pulsar from first principles, starting with a spinning, magnetized meutron star. The computer code injects electrons and positrons at the pulsar's surface and tracks how they interact with the electric and magnetic fields. It's computationally intensive because the particle motions affect the fields and the fields affect the particles, and everything is moving near the speed of light.

This visualization shows the high-speed electrons and positrons moviing around the pulsar. Darker blue trails represent slow electrons, darker red trails represent slow positrons. White trails indicate high speed (relativisitic) particles. Electrons and positrons can be accelerated near the edge of the current sheet.

Color bar for electrons representing the particle speed as the relativisitic Lorentz factor.

Color bar for electrons representing the particle speed as the relativisitic Lorentz factor.

Color bar for positrons representing the particle speed as the relativisitic Lorentz factor.

Color bar for positrons representing the particle speed as the relativisitic Lorentz factor.



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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio


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