Published on Thu Jul 15 2021

The Cosmic Ray Staircase: the Outcome of the Cosmic Ray Acoustic Instability

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Recently, cosmic rays (CRs) have emerged as a leading candidate for driving galactic winds. Small-scale processes can dramatically affect global wind properties. We run two-moment simulations of CR streaming to study how sound waves are driven unstable by phase-shifted CR forces and CR heating. We verify linear theory growth rates. As the sound waves grow non-linear, they steepen into a quasi-periodic series of propagating shocks; the density jumps at shocks create CR bottlenecks. The depth of a propagating bottleneck depends on both the density jump and its velocity; {Delta}P_c is smaller for rapidly moving bottlenecks. A series of bottlenecks creates a CR staircase structure, which can be understood from a convex hull construction. The system reaches a steady state between growth of new perturbations, and stair mergers. CRs are decoupled at plateaus, but exert intense forces and heating at stair jumps. The absence of CR heating at plateaus leads to cooling, strong gas pressure gradients and further shocks. If bottlenecks are stationary, they can drastically modify global flows; if their propagation times are comparable to dynamical times, their effects on global momentum and energy transfer are modest. The CR acoustic instability is likely relevant in thermal interfaces between cold and hot gas, as well as galactic winds. Similar to increased opacity in radiative flows, the build-up of CR pressure due to bottlenecks can significantly increase mass outflow rates, by up to an order of magnitude. It seeds unusual forms of thermal instability, and the shocks could have distinct observational signatures.

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