Polarization properties of photospheric emission from relativistic, collimated outflows

C. Lundman, A. Pe'er, F. Ryde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3292-3308
Number of pages17
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamma-ray burst: general
  • Polarization
  • Radiation mechanisms: thermal
  • Radiative transfer
  • Scattering


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