Dynamics of relativistic jets

K. I. Nishikawa, Louisiana State University
J. Frank, Louisiana State University
D. M. Christodoulou, Louisiana State University
S. Koide, University of Toyama
J. I. Sakai, University of Toyama
Hélène Sol, L'Observatoire de Paris
Robert L. Mutel, University of Iowa


We discuss the structure and relativistic kinematics that develop in three spatial dimensions when a moderately hot, supersonic jet propagates into a denser background medium and encounters resistance from an oblique magnetic field. Our simulations incorporate relativistic MHD in a four-dimensional spacetime and clearly show that (a) relatively weak, oblique fields (at 1/16 of the equipartition value) have only a negligible influence on the propagating jet and they are passively pushed away by the relativistically moving head; (b) oblique fields in equipartition with the ambient plasma provide more resistance and cause bending at the jet head, but the magnitude of this deflection and the associated backflow are small compared to those identified by previous studies. The new results are understood as follows: Relativistic simulations have consistently shown that these jets are effectively heavy and so they do not suffer substantial momentum losses and are not decelerated as efficiently as their nonrelativistic counterparts. In addition, the ambient magnetic field, however strong, can be pushed aside with relative ease by the beam, provided that the degrees of freedom associated with all three spatial dimensions are followed self-consistently during the simulations. The effect is analogous to pushing Japanese "noren" or vertical Venetian blinds out of the way while the slats are allowed to bend and twist in 3-D space. Applied to relativistic extragalactic jets from blazars, the new results are encouraging since superluminal outflows exhibit bending near their sources and their environments are profoundly magnetized - but observations do not provide support for irregular kinematics such as large-scale vortical motions and pronounced reverse flows near the points of origin.