Time evolution of pulsar obliquity angle from 3D simulations of magnetospheres

Alexander Philippov*, Alexander Tchekhovskoy, Jason G. Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations

Abstract

The rotational period of isolated pulsars increases over time due to the extraction of angular momentum by electromagnetic torques. These torques also change the obliquity angle α between the magnetic and rotational axes. Although actual pulsar magnetospheres are plasma filled, the time evolution of α has mostly been studied for vacuum pulsar magnetospheres. In this work, we self-consistently account for the plasma effects for the first time by analysing the results of time-dependent 3D force-free and magnetohydrodynamic simulations of pulsar magnetospheres. We show that if a neutron star is spherically symmetric and is embedded with a dipolar magnetic moment, the pulsar evolves so as to minimize its spin-down luminosity: both vacuum and plasma-filled pulsars evolve towards the aligned configuration (α = 0). However, they approach the alignment in qualitatively different ways. Vacuum pulsars come into alignment exponentially fast, with α α exp (-t/τ) and τ ~ spin-down time-scale. In contrast, we find that plasma-filled pulsars align much more slowly, with α α (t/τ)-1/2. We argue that the slow time evolution of obliquity of plasma-filled pulsars can potentially resolve several observational puzzles, including the origin of normal pulsars with periods of ~1 s, the evidence that oblique pulsars come into alignment over a time-scale of ~107 yr, and the observed deficit, relative to an isotropic obliquity distribution, of pulsars showing interpulse emission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1879-1887
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume441
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2014

Keywords

  • Pulsars: General
  • Stars: Magnetic field
  • Stars: Neutron
  • Stars: Rotation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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