Stellar explosions by magnetic towers

Dmitri A. Uzdensky, Andrew I. Macfadyen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We propose a magnetic mechanism for the collimated explosion of massive stars relevant for long-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), X-ray flashes (XRFs), and asymmetric core collapse supernovae. In particular, we apply Lynden-Bell's magnetic tower scenario to the interior of a massive rotating star after the core has collapsed to form a collapsar with a black hole accretion disk or a millisecond magnetar as the central engine. Of key importance, the toroidal magnetic field, continuously generated by differential rotation of the central engine, drives a rapid expansion, which becomes vertically collimated after lateral force balance with the surrounding gas pressure is reached. The collimation naturally occurs because hoop stress concentrates magnetic field toward the rotation axis and inhibits lateral expansion without affecting vertical expansion. This leads to the growth of a self-collimated magnetic structure that Lynden-Bell termed a "magnetic tower." When embedded in a massive star, the supersonic expansion of the tower drives a strong bow shock, behind which an overpressured cocoon of shocked stellar material forms, as observed in hydrodynamic simulations of collapsar jets. The cocoon confines the tower by supplying collimating pressure support. Because the tower consists of closed field lines starting and ending on the central engine, mixing of baryons from the cocoon into the tower is suppressed. The channel cleared by the growing tower is thus plausibly free of baryons and allows the escape of magnetic energy from the central engine through the star. While propagating down the stellar density gradient, the expansion of the tower accelerates and becomes relativistic. Eventually, fast collisionless reconnection becomes possible, with the resulting dissipation of magnetic energy into accelerated particles being responsible for GRB prompt emission.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1192-1212
    Number of pages21
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Issue number2 I
    StatePublished - Aug 20 2006


    • Accretion, accretion disks
    • Gamma rays: bursts
    • MHD
    • Magnetic fields
    • Stars: magnetic fields
    • Supernovae: general

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Space and Planetary Science


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