Electron Acceleration in Pulsar-Wind Termination Shocks: An Application to the Crab Nebula Gamma-Ray Flares [HEAP]


The {\gamma}-ray flares from the Crab nebula observed by AGILE and Fermi-LAT reaching GeV energies and lasting several days challenge the standard models for particle acceleration in pulsar wind nebulae, because the radiating electrons have energies exceeding the classical radiation-reaction limit for synchrotron. Previous modeling has suggested that the synchrotron limit can be exceeded if the electrons experience electrostatic acceleration, but the resulting spectra do not agree very well with the data. As a result, there are still some important unanswered questions about the detailed particle acceleration and emission processes occurring during the flares. We revisit the problem using a new analytical approach based on an electron transport equation that includes terms describing electrostatic acceleration, stochastic wave-particle acceleration, shock acceleration, synchrotron losses, and particle escape. An exact solution is obtained for the electron distribution, which is used to compute the associated {\gamma}-ray synchrotron spectrum. We find that in our model the {\gamma}-ray flares are mainly powered by electrostatic acceleration, but the contributions from stochastic and shock acceleration play an important role in producing the observed spectral shapes. Our model can reproduce the spectra of all the Fermi-LAT and AGILE flares from the Crab nebula, using magnetic field strengths in agreement with the multi-wavelength observational constraints. We also compute the spectrum and duration of the synchrotron afterglow created by the accelerated electrons, after they escape into the region on the downstream side of the pulsar wind termination shock. The afterglow is expected to fade over a maximum period of about three weeks after the {\gamma}-ray flare.

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J. Kroon, P. Becker, J. Finke, et. al.
Mon, 17 Oct 16

Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ