High-energy pulsar models: developments and new questions
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The past few years have seen a major advance in observational knowledge of high-energy (HE) pulsars. The Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) and AGILE have increased the number of known γ-ray pulsars by an order of magnitude, its members being divided roughly equally among millisecond pulsars (MSPs), young radio-loud pulsars, and young radio-quiet pulsars. Many new and diverse emission characteristics are being measured, while radio and X-ray follow-up observations increase the pulsar detection rate and enrich our multiwavelength picture of these extreme sources. The wealth of new data has provided impetus for further development and improvement of existing theoretical pulsar models. Geometric light curve (LC) modelling has uncovered three broad classes into which HE pulsars fall: those where the radio profile leads, is aligned with, or lags the γ-ray profile. For example, the original MSP and original black widow system are members of the second class, requiring co-located emission regions and thereby breaking with traditional notions of radio emission origin. These models imply narrow accelerator gaps in the outer magnetosphere, indicating copious pair production even in MSP magnetospheres that were previously thought to be pair-starved. The increased quality and variety of the LCs necessitate construction of ever more sophisticated models.We will review progress in global magnetosphere solutions which specify a finite conductivity on field lines above the stellar surface, filling the gap between the standard vacuum and force-free (FF; plasma-filled) models. The possibility of deriving phase-resolved spectra for the brightest pulsars, coupled with the fact that the HE pulsar population is sizable enough to allow sampling of various pulsar geometries, will enable much more stringent testing of future radiation models. Reproduction of the observed phase-resolved behavior of this disparate group will be one of the next frontiers in pulsar science, impacting on our understanding of particle acceleration, emission, and magnetosphere geometry. One may now also study evolutionary trends of the measured or inferred quantities, and probe pulsar visibility and population properties such as radiation beam sizes of different pulsar classes, as well as the distribution of spin-down power, γ-ray luminosity, conversion efficiency, spectral index, and cutoff energy across the population. Lastly, the recent detection of very-high-energy (VHE) pulsations from the Crab pulsar generated quite a few ideas to explain this emission, leading to an extension of standard models and possibly even a bridge between the physics of pulsars and pulsar wind nebulae (PWNe).