AIP Digital Archive
Collisionless quasiperpendicular shocks with magnetoacoustic Mach numbers exceeding a certain threshold are known to reflect a fraction of the upstream ion population. These reflected ions drive instabilities which, in a magnetized plasma, can give rise to electron acceleration. In the case of shocks associated with supernova remnants (SNRs), electrons energized in this way may provide a seed population for subsequent acceleration to highly relativistic energies. If the plasma is weakly magnetized, in the sense that the electron cyclotron frequency is much smaller than the electron plasma frequency ωp, a Buneman instability occurs at ωp. The nonlinear evolution of this instability is examined using particle-in-cell simulations, with initial parameters which are representative of SNR shocks. For simplicity, the magnetic field is taken to be strictly zero. It is shown that the instability saturates as a result of electrons being trapped by the wave potential. Subsequent evolution of the waves depends on the temperature of the background protons Ti and the size of the simulation box L. If Ti is comparable to the initial electron temperature Te, and L is equal to one Buneman wavelength λ0, the wave partially collapses into low frequency waves and backscattered waves at around ωp. If, on the other hand, Ti(very-much-greater-than)Te and L=λ0, two high frequency waves remain in the plasma. One of these waves, excited at a frequency slightly lower than ωp, may be a Bernstein–Greene–Kruskal mode. The other wave, excited at a frequency well above ωp, is driven by the relative streaming of trapped and untrapped electrons. In a simulation with L=4λ0, the Buneman wave collapses on a time scale consistent with the excitation of sideband instabilities. Highly energetic electrons were not observed in any of these simulations, suggesting that the Buneman instability can only produce strong electron acceleration in a magnetized plasma. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.
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