Efficient Nonthermal Particle Acceleration by the Kink Instability in Relativistic Jets
E. Paulo Alves, Jonathan Zrake, Frederico Fiuza
Relativistic magnetized jets from active galaxies are among the most powerful cosmic accelerators, but their particle acceleration mechanisms remain a mystery. We present a new acceleration mechanism associated with the development of the helical kink instability in relativistic jets, which leads to the efficient conversion of the jet’s magnetic energy into nonthermal particles. Large-scale three-dimensional ab initio simulations reveal that the formation of highly tangled magnetic fields and a large-scale inductive electric field throughout the kink-unstable region promotes rapid energization of the particles. The energy distribution of the accelerated particles develops a well-defined power-law tail extending to the radiation-reaction limited energy in the case of leptons, and to the confinement energy of the jet in the case of ions. When applied to the conditions of well-studied bright knots in jets from active galaxies, this mechanism can account for the spectrum of synchrotron and inverse Compton radiating particles, and offers a viable means of accelerating ultra-high-energy cosmic rays to 1020 eV.