Structured, relativistic jets driven by radiation

Eric R. Coughlin, Mitchell C. Begelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Relativistic jets, or highly collimated and fast-moving outflows, are endemic to many astrophysical phenomena. The jets produced by gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and tidal disruption events (TDEs) are accompanied by the accretion of material on to a black hole or neutron star, with the accretion rate exceeding the Eddington limit of the compact object by orders of magnitude. In such systems, radiation dominates the energy-momentum budget of the outflow, and the dynamical evolution of the jet is governed by the equations of radiation hydrodynamics. Here, we show that there are analytical solutions to the equations of radiation hydrodynamics in the viscous (i.e. diffusive) regime that describe structured, relativistic jets, which consist of a fast-moving, highly relativistic core surrounded by a slower moving, less relativistic sheath. In these solutions, the slower moving, outer sheath contains most of the mass, and the jet structure is mediated by local anisotropies in the radiation field. We show that, depending on the pressure and density profile of the ambient medium, the angular profile of the jet Lorentz factor is Gaussian or falls off even more steeply with angle. These solutions have implications for the nature of jet production and evolution in hyperaccreting systems, and demonstrate that such jets - and the corresponding jet structure - can be sustained entirely by radiative processes. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of jetted TDEs and short and long GRBs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3158-3177
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Black hole physics
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Methods: analytical
  • Radiation: dynamics
  • Radiative transfer
  • Relativistic processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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