Hopefully this is an easy question. I hear the terms bremsstrahlung and thermal bremsstrahlung being used. However, I, incorrectly, thought that they were used interchangeably.

So, what is te qualitative difference between bremsstrahlung and thermal bremsstrahlung?


1 Answer 1


The difference is in population sizes. With (just) bremsstrahlung, you're talking about a single electron passing near an atom. This results in the typical expression of the radiated power, $$ P_{br}\sim \gamma^4\left(\dot{\boldsymbol\beta}^2+\frac{\boldsymbol\beta\cdot\dot{\boldsymbol\beta}}{1-\beta^2}\right) $$ with $\gamma$ the Lorentz factor and $\boldsymbol\beta=\mathbf v/c$. This leads to $P\propto a^2$ (with $a=\dot\beta$), so the emission depends on the deceleration of the electron as it passes the atom.

With thermal bremsstrahlung, you're talking about a (large) population of electrons that follow the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution (a thermal population since the electron distribution depends on $T$) and are undergoing the bremsstrahlung process. This leads to the power of $$ P_{ff}\sim T^{1/2} $$ so the emission here depends on the temperature of the gas cloud.

For more information, you can take a look at Chapter 5 of Rybicki & Lightman (Amazon link), which discusses single electron, thermal & relativistic bremsstrahlung emissions processes.


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