Critical pitch angle for electron acceleration in a collisionless shock layer
Collisionless shock waves in space and astrophysical plasmas can accelerate electrons along the shock layer by an electrostatic potential, and scatter or reflect electrons back to the upstream region by the amplified magnetic field or turbulent fluctuations. The notion of the critical pitch angle is introduced for non-adiabatic electron acceleration by balancing the two timescales under a quasi-perpendicular shock wave geometry in which the upstream magnetic field is nearly perpendicular to the shock layer normal direction. An analytic expression of the critical pitch angle is obtained as a function of the electron velocity parallel to the magnetic field, the ratio of the electron gyro- to plasma frequency, the cross-shock potential, the width of the shock transition layer, and the shock angle (which is the angle between the upstream magnetic field and the shock normal direction). For typical non-relativistic solar system applications, the critical pitch angle is predicted to be about 10°. An efficient acceleration is expected below the critical pitch angle.