The high-energy polarization-limiting radius of neutron star magnetospheres - I. Slowly rotating neutron stars

Jeremy S. Heyl*, Nir J. Shaviv, Don Lloyd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations

Abstract

In the presence of strong magnetic fields, the vacuum becomes a birefringent medium. We show that this quantum electrodynamics effect decouples the polarization modes of photons leaving the neutron star (NS) surface. Both the total intensity and the intensity in each of the two modes are preserved along the path of a ray through the NS magnetosphere. We analyse the consequences that this effect has on aligning the observed polarization vectors across the image of the stellar surface to generate large net polarizations. In contrast to previous predictions, we show that the thermal radiation of NSs should be highly polarized even in the optical. When detected, this polarization will be the first demonstration of vacuum birefringence. It could be used as a tool to prove the high magnetic field nature of anomalous X-ray pulsars (AXPs) and it could also be used to constrain physical NS parameters, such as R/M, to which the net polarization is sensitive.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)134-144
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume342
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 11 Jun 2003

Keywords

  • Polarization
  • Stars: Neutron
  • X-rays: stars

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