Electromagnetic cascade masquerade: a way to mimic γ-axion-like particle mixing effects in blazar spectra
1 Federal State Budget Educational Institution of Higher Education, M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP MSU), 1(2), Leninskie gory, GSP-1119991 Moscow, Russia
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2 Federal State Budget Educational Institution of Higher Education, M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, Department of Physics, 1(2), Leninskie gory, GSP-1, 119991 Moscow, Russia
Received: 5 September 2016
Accepted: 13 February 2017
Context. Most of the studies on extragalactic γ-ray propagation performed up to now only accounted for primary γ-ray absorption and adiabatic losses, known as the “absorption-only model”. However, there is growing evidence that this model is oversimplified and must be modified in some way. In particular, it was found that the intensity extrapolated from the optically-thin energy range of some blazar spectra is insufficient to explain the optically-thick part of these spectra. This effect was interpreted as an indication for γ-axion-like particle (ALP) oscillation. On the other hand, there are many hints that a secondary component from electromagnetic cascades initiated by primary γ-rays or nuclei may be observed in the spectra of some blazars.
Aims. We study the impact of electromagnetic cascades from primary γ-rays or protons on the physical interpretation of blazar spectra obtained with imaging Cherenkov telescopes.
Methods. We used the publicly-available code ELMAG to compute observable spectra of electromagnetic cascades from primary γ-rays. For the case of primary proton, we developed a simple, fast and reasonably accurate hybrid method to calculate the observable spectrum. We performed the fitting of the observed spectral energy distributions (SEDs) with various physical models: the absorption-only model, the “electromagnetic cascade model” for the case of primary γ-rays, and several versions of the hadronic cascade model for the case of primary protons. We distinguish the following species of hadronic cascade models: 1) the “basic hadronic model”, in which it is assumed that the proton beam travels undisturbed by the extragalactic magnetic field and that all observable γ-rays are produced by primary protons through photohadronic processes with subsequent development of electromagnetic cascades; 2) the “intermediate hadronic model”, which is the same as the basic hadronic model, but the primary beam is terminated at some redshift zc; and 3) the “modified hadronic model” that includes the contribution from primary, redshifted and partially-absorbed, γ-rays.
Results. Electromagnetic cascades show at least two very distinct regimes labelled by the energy of the primary γ-ray (E0): the one-generation regime for the case of E0 < 10 TeV, and the universal regime for E0 > 100 TeV and redshift to the source zs > 0.02. Spectral signatures of the observable spectrum for the case of the basic hadronic model, zs = 0.186 and low energy (E < 200 GeV), are nearly the same as for a purely electromagnetic cascade, but for E > 200 GeV the spectrum is much harder for the case of the basic hadronic model. In the framework of the intermediate hadronic model, the observable spectrum depends only slightly on the primary proton energy, but it strongly depends on zc at E > 500 GeV. As a rule, both electromagnetic and hadronic cascade models provide acceptable fits to the observed SEDs. We show that the best-fit model intensity in the multi-TeV region of the spectrum in the framework of the electromagnetic cascade model is typically greater than the one for the case of the absorption-only model. Finally, for the case of blazar 1ES 0229+200 we provide strong constraints on the intermediate hadronic model, assuming models for the blazar emission and the magnetic field around the source.
Key words: astroparticle physics / radiation mechanisms: non-thermal / methods: numerical / BL Lacertae objects: general / cosmic background radiation
© ESO, 2017