Shocks play a key role in plasma thermalization and particle acceleration in the near Earth space plasma, in astrophysical plasma and in laser plasma interactions. An accurate understanding of the physics of plasma shocks is thus of immense importance. We give an overview over some recent developments in particle-in-cell simulations of plasma shocks and foreshock dynamics. We focus on ion reflection by shocks and on the two-stream instabilities these beams can drive, and these are placed in the context of experimental observations, e.g. by the Cluster mission. We discuss how we may expand the insight gained from the observation of proton beam driven instabilities at near Earth plasma shocks to better understand their astrophysical counterparts, such as ion beam instabilities triggered by internal and external shocks in the relativistic jets of gamma ray bursts, shocks in the accretion discs of micro-quasars and supernova remnant shocks. It is discussed how and why the peak energy that can be reached by particles that are accelerated by two-stream instabilities increases from keV energies to GeV energies and beyond, as we increase the streaming speed to relativistic values, and why the particle energy spectrum sometimes resembles power law distributions.
- two-stream instability
- collisionless shock