(Submitted March 13, 1997)
Please send me some information about the mechanism behind X-ray radiation
in the interstellar medium. For example, the plasma mechanism.
X-rays in space come from a variety of sources. These include
objects, such as supernova remnant, active galactic nuclei (including
quasars), stars, and compact objects (black holes or neutron stars)
in binary orbits with more normal stars. In addition, X-rays are
likely to be emitted by diffuse gas in the interstellar medium. The
relative contributions or these various sources to the total X-ray
flux received at earth is a subject of some debate, and it varies
with the X-ray energy.
It is customary to divide the emission mechanisms for X-rays into
"thermal" and "non-thermal", according to
whether the velocity
distribution of the emitting electrons is Maxwellian. Among
thermal mechanisms, the most common is almost certainly bremsstrahlung,
in which radiation occurs as the result of coulomb collisions between
electrons and nuclei in an ionized gas. This mechanism
is likely to be operating in virtually all X-ray sources,
and dominates the emission from many of them. One of the most
common non-thermal mechanisms is synchrotron emission, in which electrons
radiate as the result of their gyroscopic motion in a magnetic field.
This mechanism, and variation, called synchrotron-self Compton, is likely
to dominate in some supernova remnants and in some quasars.
Both of these mechanisms are described in electricity and magnetism
texts, such as Jackson's "Classical Electrodynamics". More details
can be found in a "Radiative Processes in Astrophysics" by Rybicki
I hope this helps!
for the Ask an Astrophysicist team