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–1–

1.

Compton Scattering and Comptonization

1.1.

Radiation Drag on a Charged Particle

When the Thomson scattering is a valid approximation, the photon transfers all its momentum

to the electron but a negligible amount of energy. Hence this scattering must be accompanied by

a force acting on the particle, which can also be viewed as follows. When an electromagnetic

wave hits a charged particle, it makes the particle oscillate and radiated. The radiation will lead

to a damping force on the particle. This drag force can be obtained by averaging the force over

the period of the wave: h f i = (2/ 3)(q 2 /mc 2 ) 2 h E i 2 = T U , where U is the flux of radiation.

Note that the mean force is quadratic in the electric field while the instantaneous force acting on a

charge particle is linear in the electric field.

In the above discussion, we considered a single plane wave that scattered by a charged

particle. A more complicated situation arises when a charged particle with velocity v is moving

through a region of space containing an isotropic bath of radiation with energy density U rad . The

charge particle will be constantly scattering electromagnetic waves that make up the radiation

bath. Because the charge has a nonzero velocity v, this scattering will be anisotropic and hence

the momentum transfer to the charged particle will be in the direction opposite to the velocity.

The reason for the drag force is easier to understand if we think of radiation as made of photons.

Clearly, the charged particle will be hit by more photons in the front than in the back and thus

will experience a drag force. The radiation drag of a particle can be obtained directly as follows.

Treat the radiation bath as equivalent to randomly fluctuating E and B fields with h E i = h Bi = 0;

h E 2 i = h B 2 i = 4 U rad . The mean power radiated by the charge is given by

dE

dt

!

rad

=

T c 2 1 + 3c v 2 2 ! U rad .

(1)

Now this is the energy gained by the photon field due to the scattering. We have therefore to

subtract the energy of these photons to find the total energy gain. The rate at which energy is

–2–

removed from the photon field and thus absorbed by the charge is (dE /dt ) abs = c T U rad . Hence

the net energy transfer from the charge to the radiation is

dE

= 4

3

dt

T 2 U rad v

c

2 c.

(2)

Thus a charge particle, moving relativistically through a radiation bath , can transfer kinetic energy

to the radiation. This process is called inverse Compton scattering. The above result uses the

Thomson scattering cross section in the rest frame of the charged particle. If the photon energy, in

the rest frame of the charge, is comparable with mc 2 , then its necessary to use the Klein-Nishina

cross section.

1.1.1. Compton Scattering

In previous sections we have consider the scattering of a plane wave by a charged particle

(which was originally at rest) and the interaction of a moving charged particle with a radiation

bath. We next discuss the case of a collection of charged particles interacting with the radiation

field. It is now convenient and necessary to think of the radiation field as made of a collection of

photons. The interaction between the electrons and photons can cause net energy transfer to either

particle and we need to take into account dierent possibilities.

Consider a plasma embedded in a radiation field of temperature T rad . The scattering of

photons by the electrons in the plasma will continuously transfer energy between the two

components. The high-energy photons with m e v 2 ~! m e c 2 will transfer energy to the

low-energy electrons, but will gain energy from the high-energy electrons (with ~! m e v 2 ). It

is assumed that ~! m e c 2 , so that the quantum electrodynamical e ects, like pair production,

are negligible. In thermal equilibrium, the net transfer of energy will be zero. But if the electron

temperature T e is very dierent from the photon temperature, there can be a net transfer of energy.

When T e T rad , the electrons cool (on average) by transferring energy to photons. This process,

–3–

inverse Compton scattering, will cause the spectrum of photons to be distorted. On the other hand,

if T rad T e , the energy will be transferred (on the average) from the photons to the electrons

and this process is called Compton scattering. In astrophysical applications, inverse Compton

scattering plays a more important role than Compton scattering, essentially because it can serve as

a mechanism for generating high-energy photons.

We start by considering the scattering of a photon by an electron that was originally at rest.

Let the initial and final four momenta of the photon be k a = (~! i /c)[1 , n i ] and k a f = (~! f /c )[1, n f ],

respectively and those of the electrons to be p a = (mc , 0) and p a f = ( E / cp), respectively. The

conservation of momentum and energy can be expressed by the equation p a + k a = p a f + k f .

Squaring this equation and using the components to eliminate the final electron momentum, we

get

(3)

i

i

a

i

i

! f

!

i

= " 1 + ~! i 2 ! (1 cos ) # 1 ,

m

e c

where cos = (n i · n f ). When ~! m e c 2 , we can expand the expression in the bracket in a Taylor

series and obtain

(4)

! f ! i

E

= ~! i 2 ! (1 cos ).

m

e c

=

!

i

E

To find the mean energy transfer, this expression should be averaged over . In the rest frame

of the electron, the scattering has front-back symmetry, making h cos i = 0. Hence the average

energy lost by the photon per collision is

h E i = ~! i 2 !

m

e c

~! i .

(5)

Let us consider the average energy gained by the photon field from the charged particle. We saw

in § 1.1 that the net addition of energy to the photon field is given by (see equation [2]):

dE

= 4

3

dt

T 2 U rad v

c

2 c.

(6)

The mean number of photons scattered per second is N c = T cn rad = T cU rad / (~! i ), where ~! i is

the average energy of the photon defined by ~! i = (U rad /n rad ). Hence the average energy gained

by the photon in one collision is

h E i =

–4–

P

4 2 v 2 ~! i = 4 2 v 2 h E i .

3

N

c

=

c

3

c

(7)

In the relativistic limit, ( E / E ) (4 /3) 2 1, and this process can be a source of high-energy

photons (Figure 1). For example, if = 10 3 , this process can convert radio photons to UV

photons, far-infrared photons to x rays, and optical photons to gamma rays. It should, however, be

noted that the scattering cross section T has to be modified when E m e c 2 . The modified cross

section decreases for E > m e c 2 and the inverse Compton process ceases to be eective.

When v c, the energy gain by photons per collision is h E / E i ⇡ (4 k B T e /m e c 2 ) as

mv 2 3 k B T e . Combining this with [5] we find that the mean fractional energy change of photons

per collision, is

*

E + = h~!i + 4k B T e = 4k B T e h E i

E

m

e c 2

m

e c 2

m

e c 2

.

(8)

If 4k B T e > h E i , the net energy transfer is from electrons to photons (inverse Compton scattering),

and if 4 k B T e < h E i , the net energy transfer is from photons to electrons. We may say that, in a

typical collision between an electron and a photon, the electron energy changes by E 2 /m e c 2 and

photon energy changes by (4k B T e /m e c 2 ) E .

The process described above acts as a major source of cooling for relativistic plasma as well

as a mechanism for producing high-energy photons. The time scale for Compton cooling of an

individual relativistic particle is

t cc m e c 2

P

4 10 3 1 2

K 4

T

R

10

6

s,

(9)

where T R is the radiation temperature. If electrons are nonrelativistic with temperature T e , this

timescale is

t cc

1

k

B

T R ! = 1. 3 10 3

c

m

e

2

n T c

K 4

T

R

10

6

s .

(10)

As the energy is progressively transferred from the electrons to the photons, through repeated

scattering, the mean energy will increase towards 4k B T e , when the net transfer will cease.

–5–

–5– Fig. 1.— Radiation spectrum emitted by mono energetic electrons inverse Compton scattering monochromatic

Fig. 1.— Radiation spectrum emitted by mono energetic electrons inverse Compton scattering monochromatic radiation. In the ultra-relativistic limit, 1, the mean scattered frequency is 4 2 0 / 3 and the peak of the scattered frequency is 4 2 0 , where 0 is the incident frequency.

–6–

When the electrons and photons coexist in a region of size L , the repeated scattering of

photons by the electrons will distort the original spectrum of the photons. The mean free path of

the photon that is due to Thomson scattering is l = (n e T ) 1 . If the size of the region L is such

that ( L / l ) 1, then the photon will undergo several collisions in this region; but if ( L /l ) 1

then there will be few collisions. It is convenient to define an optical depth e ( L / l ) = (n e T L )

so that e 1 implies strong scattering.

If e 1, then the photon goes through N s ( 1) collisions in traveling a distance L .

from standard random-walk arguments, we have N

the other hand, if e 1, then N s e ; therefore an estimate for the number of scatterings is

N s max( e , 2 ). The average fractional change in the photon energy, per collision, is given by

1/ 2

s

l L so that N s = ( L /l ) 2 = 2 . On

e

e

4( k B T e /m e c 2 ). Hence the condition for a significant change of energy is

1 = N s

4 k B T e ! = 4 k B T e

m

e c 2

m

e c 2

! max( e , 2 ) .

e

(11)

Defining a parameter y (called the Compton y parameter) by

y

= k B T e N s

m

e c 2

= 4 k B T e

m

e c 2

! max( e , 2 ),

e

(12)

the condition for significant scattering becomes y 1/4.

Because L = e /n e T , the size of the region in which this process will be important is

L = e /n e T and the corresponding timescale is t c ( L /c). Explicitly

t c = L c =

8

>

>

>

>

>

: (n e T c) 1 (m e c 2 /4 k B T e ) 1/ 2 for e 1 ;

>

>

>

>

>

>

>

9

for e 1 >

>

>

>

(n e T c) 1 ( m e c 2 / 4k B T e )

<

=

(13)

A more precise condition for repeated scattering to change the spectrum of the radiation field can

be obtained as follows. The change in the energy of a typical photon after a single scattering is

given by the factor (E 0 / E) = (1 + 4 k B T e /m e c 2 ), with k B T m e c 2 . After N s scatterings, the energy

change is given by the factor

E 0

E =

1 + 4 k B T e ! N s exp 4 k B T e N s ! = exp(4y ).

m

e c 2

m

e c 2

(14)

–7–

–7– Fig. 2.— The Comptonization of low frequency photons in a spherical plasma cloud having k

Fig. 2.— The Comptonization of low frequency photons in a spherical plasma cloud having k B T e = 25keV. the solid curves are analytical solutions to the Kompaneets equation; the results of Monte Carlo simulations of the Compton scattering process are shown by the histograms.

–8–

Suppose that the initial frequency of the radiation field is ~! i k B T e . The energy gain by the

photons (usually called Comptonization) goes on till the mean energy of the photons raises to

4 k B T e . The critical optical depth needed for this is determined by

giving

E 0 = 4 k B T e

E

~! i

! = exp " 4 k B T 2 e !

m

e c

2

crit # ,

crit = "

2

m e c T e ! ln ( 4 k B T e

4k

B

~! i

)# 1/ 2

.

(15)

(16)

When the optical depth of the region is comparable with crit , the spectrum of the photons will

evolve because of repeated scattering. Such an evolution is described by the Kompaneets equation.

Figure 2 show how the spectrum changes as y(e ) increases in which it is assumed that the input

photons are very low energy and the electrons have a temperature k B T e = 25keV. The spectrum

evolves so that for large optical depths the beginnings of the Wien peak can be observed. At

smaller optical depths, the spectrum mimics very closely a power-law spectrum up to energies

k B T e .

Finally, note that when a 10 keV photons scatters a free electron, the recoil energy is 200

eV, which is much larger than the typical ionization potential of valence electrons in atoms.

Therefore even bound electrons (expect the inner shell electrons of high- Z atoms) behave as

though they are free in hard-x-ray scattering.

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