Pulsar Kicks - Theories

Theories

Many hydrodynamical theories have been proposed, all of which attempt to explain the asymmetry in supernova using convection or mechanical instabilities in the presupernova star. Perhaps the easiest to understand is the "overstable g-mode". In this theory, we first assume that the core is pushed slightly to one side, off center from the star. This increases the pressure in the nearby silicon and oxygen shells of the star. Since the rate of nuclear reactions in these shells is very sensitively dependent on pressure, the added pressure results in a large release of energy, and the core is pushed back the other way. This in turn adds greater pressure on the other side, and we find that the core begins to oscillate. It has been shown that many such modes are overstable in heavy stars, that is, a small perturbation becomes large over time. When the star explodes, the core has additional momentum in some direction, which we observe as the kick. It has been proposed that hydrodynamical models can explain the bimodal distribution, through a "dichotomous kick scenario" in which the envelope of the presupernova star is stolen by a binary companion, damping mechanical instabilities and thus reducing the resulting kick.

There are two main neutrino driven kick scenarios, relying on the parity violation of neutrino interactions to explain an asymmetry in neutrino distribution. The first uses the fact that in the presence of a magnetic field, the direction that a neutrino is scattered off a nucleus is biased in some direction. So if neutrino emission happened in the presence of a strong magnetic field, we might expect the average neutrino drift to align in some way with that field, and thus the resulting explosion would be asymmetric. A main problem with this theory is that to have sufficient asymmetry the theory requires fields of order G, much stronger than is expected in a heavy star. Another neutrino based theory uses the fact that the cross section for neutrino scattering depends weakly on the strength of the ambient magnetic field. Thus, if the magnetic field is itself anisotropic, then there could be dark spots which are essentially opaque to neutrinos. This however requires anisotropies of order G, which is even more unlikely.

The final main proposal is known as the electromagnetic rocket scenario. In this theory, we assume the pulsar's magnetic dipole to be offcenter and offaxis from the pulsar's spin axis. This results in an asymmetry in the magnitude of the dipole oscillations, as seen from above and below, which in turn means an asymmetry in the emission of radiation. The radiation pressure then slowly rockets the pulsar away. Notice that this is a postnatal kick, and has nothing to do with asymmetries in the supernova itself. Also notice that this process steals energy from the pulsar's spin, and so a main observational constraint on the theory is the observed rate of rotation for pulsar's throughout the galaxy. A major bonus to this theory is that it actually predicts the spin-kick correlation. However, there is some contention as to whether this can generate sufficient energy to explain the full range of kick velocities.

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