Cosmic-ray energy spectrum and composition up to the ankle: The case for a second Galactic component

S. Thoudam, J. P. Rachen, A. Van Vliet, A. Achterberg, S. Buitink, H. Falcke, J. R. Hörandel

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Motivated by the recent high-precision measurements of cosmic rays by several new-generation experiments, we have carried out a detailed study to understand the observed energy spectrum and composition of cosmic rays with energies up to about 1018 eV. Our study shows that a single Galactic component with subsequent energy cut-offs in the individual spectra of different elements, optimised to explain the observed elemental spectra below ~ 1014 eV and the "knee" in the all-particle spectrum, cannot explain the observed all-particle spectrum above ~ 2 × 1016 eV. We discuss two approaches for a second component of Galactic cosmic rays-re-acceleration at a Galactic wind termination shock, and supernova explosions of Wolf-Rayet stars, and show that the latter scenario can explain almost all observed features in the all-particle spectrum and the composition up to ~ 1018 eV, when combined with a canonical extra-galactic spectrum expected from strong radio galaxies or a source population with similar cosmological evolution. In this two-component Galactic model, the knee at ~ 3 × 1015 eV and the "second knee" at ~ 1017 eV in the all-particle spectrum are due to the cut-offs in the first and second components, respectively. We also discuss several variations of the extra-galactic component, from a minimal contribution to scenarios with a significant component below the "ankle" (at ~ 4 × 1018 eV), and find that extra-galactic contributions in excess of regular source evolution are neither indicated nor in conflict with the existing data. We also provide arguments that an extra-galactic contribution is unlikely to dominate at or below the second knee. Our main result is that the second Galactic component predicts a composition of Galactic cosmic rays at and above the second knee that largely consists of helium or a mixture of helium and CNO nuclei, with a weak or essentially vanishing iron fraction, in contrast to most common assumptions. This prediction is in agreement with new measurements from LOFAR and the Pierre Auger Observatory which indicate a strong light component and a rather low iron fraction between ~ 1017 and 1018 eV.

Original languageBritish English
Article numberA33
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Cosmic rays
  • Diffusion
  • Galaxies: ISM
  • ISM: supernova remnants
  • Stars: winds outflows


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