Electron acceleration and efficiency in nonthermal gamma-ray sources

A. M. Bykov, P. Mészáros

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61 Scopus citations


In energetic nonthermal sources such as gamma-ray bursts, active galactic nuclei, or galactic jets, etc., one expects both relativistic and transrelativistic shocks acompanied by violent motions of moderately relativistic plasma. We present general considerations indicating that these sites are electron and positron accelerators leading to a modified power-law spectrum. The electron (or e±) energy index is very hard, ∝γ-1 or flatter, up to a comoving frame break energy γ*, and becomes steeper above that. In the example of gamma-ray bursts, the Lorentz factor reaches γ* ̃ 103 for e± accelerated by the internal shock ensemble on subhydrodynamical timescales. For pairs accelerated on hydrodynamical timescales in the external shocks, similar hard spectra are obtained, and the break Lorentz factor can be as high as γ* ≲ 105. Radiation from the nonthermal electrons produces photon spectra with shapes and characteristic energies in qualitative agreement with observed generic gamma-ray burst and blazar spectra. The scenario described here provides a plausible way to solve one of the crucial problems of nonthermal high-energy sources, namely, the efficient transfer of energy from the proton flow to an appropriate nonthermal lepton component.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L37-L40
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART II
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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