Fermi acceleration

Fermi acceleration is a mechanism, first suggested by Enrico Fermi in 1949, to explain the explain the origin of cosmic rays. It involves charged particles being reflected by the moving interstellar magnetic field and either gaining or losing energy, depending on whether the "magnetic mirror" is approaching or receding. In a typical environment, Fermi argued, the probability of a head-on collision is greater than a head-tail collision, so particles would, on average, be accelerated. This random process is now called second-order Fermi acceleration, because the mean energy gain per bounce depends on the mirror velocity squared. In 1977, theorists showed that Fermi acceleration by supernova remnant shocks is particularly efficient, because the motions are not random. A charged particle ahead of the shock front can pass through the shock and then be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities behind the shock. The particle gains energy from this bounce and flies back across the shock, where it can be scattered by magnetic inhomogeneities ahead of the shock. This enables the particle to bounce back and forth again and again, gaining energy each time. Because the mean energy gain depends only linearly on the shock velocity, this process is now called first-order Fermi acceleration.