Electron heating in a relativistic, Weibel-unstable plasma Academic Article uri icon


  • The dynamics of two initially unmagnetized relativistic counter-streaming homogeneous ion-electron plasma beams are simulated in two dimensions using the particle-in-cell (PIC) method. It is shown that current filaments, which form due to the Weibel instability, develop a large scale longitudinal electric field in the direction opposite to the current carried by the filaments as predicted by theory. Fast moving ions in the current filaments decelerate due to this longitudinal electric field. The same longitudinal electric field, which is partially inductive and partially electrostatic, is identified as the main source of acceleration of electrons in the current filaments. The transverse electric field, though larger than the longitudinal one, is shown to play a smaller role in heating electrons, contrary to previous claims. It is found that, in 1D, the electrons become strongly magnetized and are \textit{not} accelerated beyond their initial kinetic energy. Rather, the heating of the electrons is enhanced by the bending and break-up of the filaments, which releases electrons that would otherwise be trapped within a single filament and hence slow the development of the Weibel instability (i.e. the magnetic field growth) via induction as per Lenz's law. In 2D simulations electrons are heated to about one quarter of the initial kinetic energy of ions. The magnetic energy at maximum is about 4 percent, decaying to less than 1 percent by the end of the simulation. Most of the heating of electrons takes place while the longitudinal electric field is still growing while only a small portion of the heating is a result of subsequent magnetic field decay. The ions are found to gradually decelerate until the end of the simulation by which time they retain a residual anisotropy less than 10 percent.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015