EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 506, Number 2, November I 2009
Page(s) 589 - 599
Section Astrophysical processes
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/20079113
Published online 27 August 2009
A&A 506, 589-599 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/20079113

Numerical computation of isotropic Compton scattering

R. Belmont1, 2

1  CESR (Centre d'Étude Spatiale des Rayonnements), Université de Toulouse [UPS], 9 Av. du Colonel Roche, 31028 Toulouse, France
    e-mail: belmont@cesr.fr
2  CNRS, UMR5187, 31028 Toulouse, France

Received 20 November 2007 / Accepted 7 July 2009

Context. Compton scattering is involved in many astrophysical situations. It is well known and has been studied in detail for the past fifty years. Exact formulae for the different cross sections are often complex, and essentially asymptotic expressions have been used in the past. Numerical capabilities have now developed to a point where they enable the direct use of exact formulae in sophisticated codes that deal with all kinds of interactions in plasmas. Although the numerical computation of the Compton cross section is simple in principle, its practical evaluation is often prone to accuracy issues. These can be severe in some astrophysical situations but are often not addressed properly.
Aims. In this paper we investigate numerical issues related to the computation of the Compton scattering contribution to the time evolution of interacting photon and particle populations.
Methods. An exact form of the isotropic Compton cross section free of numerical cancellations is derived. Its accuracy is investigated and compared to other formulae. Then, several methods to solve the kinetic equations using this cross section are studied.
Results. The regimes where existing cross sections can be evaluated numerically are given. We find that the cross section derived here allows for accurate and fast numerical evaluation for any photon and electron energy. The most efficient way to solve the kinetic equations is a method combining a direct integration of the cross section over the photon and particle distributions and a Fokker-Planck approximation. Expressions describing this combination are given.

Key words: radiation mechanisms: general -- plasmas -- methods: numerical -- galaxies: active -- X-rays: binaries -- X-rays: galaxies

© ESO 2009