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Synchrotron-Loss Spectral Breaks in Pulsar-Wind Nebulae and Extragalactic Jets

  • Reynolds, S. P.
Publication Date
Jul 27, 2009
Submission Date
Jul 27, 2009
DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/703/1/662
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Flows of synchrotron-emitting material can be found in several astrophysical contexts, including extragalactic jets and pulsar-wind nebulae (PWNe). For X-ray synchrotron emission, flow times are often longer than electron radiative lifetimes, so the effective source size at a given X-ray energy is the distance electrons radiating at that energy can convect before they burn off. Since synchrotron losses vary strongly with electron energy, the source size drops with increasing X-ray energy, resulting in a steepening of the synchrotron spectrum. For homogeneous sources, this burnoff produces the well-known result of a steepening by 0.5 in the source's integrated spectral index. However, for inhomogeneous sources, different amounts of steepening are possible. I exhibit a simple phenomenological picture of an outflow of relativistic electrons with bulk nonrelativistic flow speed, with transverse flow-tube radius, magnetic-field strength, matter density, and flow velocity all varying as different powers of distance from the injection point. For such a picture, I calculate the value of the spectral index above the break as a function of the power-law indices, and show the possible range of steepenings. I show that these simple calculations are confirmed by full integrations of source luminosity, which also include the spectral "bump" below the break from the accumulation of electrons formerly at higher energies. In many cases, extragalactic jets show X-ray synchrotron emission steeper by more than 0.5 than the radio emission; the same phenomenon is exhibited by many pulsar-wind nebulae. It is possible that source inhomogeneities are responsible in at least some cases, so that the amount of spectral steepening becomes a diagnostic for source dynamical or geometrical properties.

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