The propagation of relativistic jets in external media

Omer Bromberg*, Ehud Nakar, Tsvi Piran, Re'Em Sari

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

259 Scopus citations


Relativistic jets are ubiquitous in astrophysical systems that contain compact objects. They transport large amounts of energy to large distances from the source and their interaction with the ambient medium has a crucial effect on the evolution of the system. The propagation of the jet is characterized by the formation of a shocked "head" at the front of the jet which dissipates the jet's energy and a cocoon that surrounds the jet and potentially collimates it. We present here a self-consistent, analytic model that follows the evolution of the jet and its cocoon, and describes their interaction. We show that the critical parameter that determines the properties of the jet-cocoon system is the dimensionless ratio between the jet's energy density and the rest-mass energy density of the ambient medium. This parameter, together with the jet's injection angle, also determines whether the jet is collimated by the cocoon or not. The model is applicable to relativistic, unmagnetized jets on all scales and may be used to determine the conditions in active galactic nucleus (AGN) jets as well as in gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) or microquasars. It shows that AGN and microquasar jets are hydrodynamically collimated due to the interaction with the ambient medium, while GRB jets can be collimated only inside a star and become uncollimated once they break out.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number100
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 20 Oct 2011


  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • galaxies: jets
  • gamma-ray burst: general
  • hydrodynamics
  • relativistic processes


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