Braking indices of young radio pulsars: theoretical perspective
Recently, Parthsarathy et al. analysed long-term timing observations of 85 young radio pulsars. They found that 15 objects have absolute values of braking indices ranging ∼10–3000, far from the classical value n = 3. They also noted a mild correlation between measured value of n and characteristic age of a radio pulsar. In this article, we systematically analyse possible physical origin of large braking indices. We find that a small fraction of these measurements could be caused by gravitational acceleration from an unseen ultra-wide companion of a pulsar or by precession. Remaining braking indices cannot be explained neither by pulsar obliquity angle evolution, nor by complex high-order multipole structure of the poloidal magnetic field. The most plausible explanation is a decay of the poloidal dipole magnetic field which operates on a time-scale ∼104−105 yr in some young objects, but has significantly longer time-scale in other radio pulsars. This decay can explain both amplitude of measured n and some correlation between n and characteristic age. The decay can be caused by either enhanced crystal impurities in the crust of some isolated radio pulsars or, more likely, by enhanced resistivity related to electron scattering off phonons due to slow cooling of low-mass neutron stars. If this effect is indeed the main cause of the rapid magnetic field decay manifesting as large braking indices, we predict that pulsars with large braking indices are hotter in comparison to those with n ≈ 3.