Polarization properties of photospheric emission from relativistic, collimated outflows

Lundman, Pe'er, & Ryde 2014, MNRAS, 440, 3292

Published Apr 23, 2014

We consider the polarization properties of photospheric emission originating in jets consisting of a highly relativistic core of opening angle θj and Lorentz factor Γ0, and a surrounding shear layer where the Lorentz factor is decreasing as a power law of index p with angle from the jet axis. We find significant degrees of linear polarization for observers located at viewing angles θv ≳ θj. In particular, the polarization degree of emission from narrow jets (θj ≈ 1/Γ0) with steep Lorentz factor gradients (p ≳ 4) reaches ˜40 per cent. The angle of polarization may shift by π/2 for time-variable jets. The spectrum below the thermal peak of the polarized emission appears non-thermal due to aberration of light, without the need for additional radiative processes or energy dissipation. Furthermore, above the thermal peak a power law of photons forms due to Comptonization of photons that repeatedly scatter between regions of different Lorentz factor before escaping. We show that polarization degrees of a few tens of per cent and broken power-law spectra are natural in the context of photospheric emission from structured jets. Applying the model to gamma-ray bursts, we discuss expected correlations between the spectral shape and the polarization degree of the prompt emission. 

Lundman, Pe'er, & Ryde 2014, MNRAS, 440, 3292