The Weibel instability in relativistic plasmas
I. Linear theory
Sterrenkundig Instituut, Universiteit Utrecht, PO Box 80000, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: email@example.com
Accepted: 17 July 2007
Aims.We discuss the linear theory of the Weibel instability in a relativistic plasma driven by ultra-relativistic beams, describing the physics of the generation of magnetic fields in the ultra-relativistic shocks associated with Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs). We perform a detailed analysis of the linear dispersion relation for the benefit of non-linear calculations that we discuss in the companion paper.
Methods.We use a covariant approach, where the linear response of the beam-plasma system is determined from the polarization tensor. This tensor relates the four-current density to the four-potential of the electromagnetic field. Showing that two approaches, one based on a fluid model and one on a kinetic description that uses a waterbag distribution for the phase-space density of the beam particles, yield essentially the same result, we compare our results to those obtained by other approaches. We mainly consider the symmetric case of two counterstreaming (but otherwise identical) beams.
Results.We show that the effect of an asymmetry in the beam densities is small for typical parameters, and briefly discuss the effect of an ambient magnetic field. The dispersion relation of the Weibel instability driven by ultra-relativistic beams is rather insensitive to the model used to describe the plasma. The properties of the instability, such as the growth rate and the range of unstable wavelengths, are governed by only two parameters: the ratio of the plasma frequency squared of the beam and hot background plasma, and a “Mach number”, which is essentially the ratio of the beam momentum and the momentum associated with thermal velocity (~sound speed) in the beam plasma. We also show that, at least for the parameters associated with the ultra-relativistic shocks in GRBs, the influence of the magnetic field is small, and the results for an unmagnetized plasma can be used.
© ESO, 2007