Many spectacular phenomena in the high-energy Universe, including bright, rapid gamma-ray flares, are powered by complex collective processes in plasmas around relativistic objects: neutron stars (NSs) and black holes (BHs). While our understanding of such processes has benefitted from knowledge obtained in traditional (e.g., space or magnetic fusion) plasma research, the physical conditions in plasmas around BHs and NSs are so extreme that conventional plasma-physical intuition often fails there and a richer physical framework is required. Extreme astrophysical plasmas are relativistic, interact strongly with radiation, and may be subject to QED (e.g., pair-production and ultra-strong magnetic fields) effects. Understanding how collective plasma processes (e.g., waves, magnetic reconnection, turbulence, shocks) operate in the presence of these “exotic” physics effects is the main charge of Extreme Plasma Astrophysics. Rapid progress in exploring and conquering this exciting new frontier is now being made, stimulated by the growing astrophysical motivation and enabled by concerted, vigorous theoretical efforts and recent computational breakthroughs due to the advent of novel first-principles relativistic kinetic plasma codes incorporating radiation reaction and QED pair creation. Laser plasma experiments may soon also contribute to this revolution. As I will describe in this talk, our group at CU Boulder has been playing a leading role in advancing this burgeoning new field. I will illustrate our recent progress with our kinetic studies of relativistic magnetic reconnection with radiation and pair creation in the context of BH coronae and jets, and of NS magnetospheres, and of radiative relativistic turbulence. I will also outline the future directions of this vibrant Extreme Plasma Astrophysics research program.
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