skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on December 1, 2022

Title: A Solar Source of Alfvénic Magnetic Field Switchbacks: In Situ Remnants of Magnetic Funnels on Supergranulation Scales
Abstract One of the striking observations from the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) spacecraft is the prevalence in the inner heliosphere of large amplitude, Alfvénic magnetic field reversals termed switchbacks . These δ B R / B ∼  ( 1 ) fluctuations occur over a range of timescales and in patches separated by intervals of quiet, radial magnetic field. We use measurements from PSP to demonstrate that patches of switchbacks are localized within the extensions of plasma structures originating at the base of the corona. These structures are characterized by an increase in alpha particle abundance, Mach number, plasma β and pressure, and by depletions in the magnetic field magnitude and electron temperature. These intervals are in pressure balance, implying stationary spatial structure, and the field depressions are consistent with overexpanded flux tubes. The structures are asymmetric in Carrington longitude with a steeper leading edge and a small (∼1°) edge of hotter plasma and enhanced magnetic field fluctuations. Some structures contain suprathermal ions to ∼85 keV that we argue are the energetic tail of the solar wind alpha population. The structures are separated in longitude by angular scales associated with supergranulation. This suggests that these switchbacks originate near the leading more » edge of the diverging magnetic field funnels associated with the network magnetic field—the primary wind sources. We propose an origin of the magnetic field switchbacks, hot plasma and suprathermals, alpha particles in interchange reconnection events just above the solar transition region and our measurements represent the extended regions of a turbulent outflow exhaust. « less
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Context. The first encounters of Parker Solar Probe (PSP) with the Sun revealed the presence of ubiquitous localised magnetic deflections in the inner heliosphere; these structures, often called switchbacks, are particularly striking in solar wind streams originating from coronal holes. Aims. We report the direct piece of evidence for magnetic reconnection occurring at the boundaries of three switchbacks crossed by PSP at a distance of 45 to 48 solar radii to the Sun during its first encounter. Methods. We analyse the magnetic field and plasma parameters from the FIELDS and Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons instruments. Results. The three structures analysed all show typical signatures of magnetic reconnection. The ion velocity and magnetic field are first correlated and then anti-correlated at the inbound and outbound edges of the bifurcated current sheets with a central ion flow jet. Most of the reconnection events have a strong guide field and moderate magnetic shear, but one current sheet shows indications of quasi anti-parallel reconnection in conjunction with a magnetic field magnitude decrease by 90%. Conclusions. Given the wealth of intense current sheets observed by PSP, reconnection at switchback boundaries appears to be rare. However, as the switchback boundaries accomodate currents, one canmore »conjecture that the geometry of these boundaries offers favourable conditions for magnetic reconnection to occur. Such a mechanism would thus contribute in reconfiguring the magnetic field of the switchbacks, affecting the dynamics of the solar wind and eventually contributing to the blending of the structures with the regular wind as they propagate away from the Sun.« less
  2. We investigate the validity of Taylor’s hypothesis (TH) in the analysis of velocity and magnetic field fluctuations in Alfvénic solar wind streams measured by Parker Solar Probe (PSP) during the first four encounters. The analysis is based on a recent model of the spacetime correlation of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence, which has been validated in high-resolution numerical simulations of strong reduced MHD turbulence. We use PSP velocity and magnetic field measurements from 24 h intervals selected from each of the first four encounters. The applicability of TH is investigated by measuring the parameter ϵ  =  δu 0 /√2 V ⊥ , which quantifies the ratio between the typical speed of large-scale fluctuations, δu 0 , and the local perpendicular PSP speed in the solar wind frame, V ⊥ . TH is expected to be applicable for ϵ ≲ 0.5 when PSP is moving nearly perpendicular to the local magnetic field in the plasma frame, irrespective of the Alfvén Mach number M A = V SW ∕ V A , where V SW and V A are the local solar wind and Alfvén speed, respectively. For the four selected solar wind intervals, we find that between 10 and 60% of the time,more »the parameter ϵ is below 0.2 and the sampling angle (between the spacecraft velocity in the plasma frame and the local magnetic field) is greater than 30°. For angles above 30°, the sampling direction is sufficiently oblique to allow one to reconstruct the reduced energy spectrum E ( k ⊥ ) of magnetic fluctuations from its measured frequency spectra. The spectral indices determined from power-law fits of the measured frequency spectrum accurately represent the spectral indices associated with the underlying spatial spectrum of turbulent fluctuations in the plasma frame. Aside from a frequency broadening due to large-scale sweeping that requires careful consideration, the spatial spectrum can be recovered to obtain the distribution of fluctuation’s energy across scales in the plasma frame.« less
  3. Abstract The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) routinely observes magnetic field deflections in the solar wind at distances less than 0.3 au from the Sun. These deflections are related to structures commonly called “switchbacks” (SBs), whose origins and characteristic properties are currently debated. Here, we use a database of visually selected SB intervals—and regions of solar wind plasma measured just before and after each SB—to examine plasma parameters, turbulent spectra from inertial to dissipation scales, and intermittency effects in these intervals. We find that many features, such as perpendicular stochastic heating rates and turbulence spectral slopes are fairly similar inside and outside of SBs. However, important kinetic properties, such as the characteristic break scale between the inertial to dissipation ranges differ inside and outside these intervals, as does the level of intermittency, which is notably enhanced inside SBs and in their close proximity, most likely due to magnetic field and velocity shears observed at the edges. We conclude that the plasma inside and outside of an SB, in most of the observed cases, belongs to the same stream, and that the evolution of these structures is most likely regulated by kinetic processes, which dominate small-scale structures at the SB edges.
  4. During three of its first five orbits around the Sun, Parker Solar Probe (PSP) crossed the large-scale heliospheric current sheet (HCS) multiple times and provided unprecedented detailed plasma and field observations of the near-Sun HCS. We report the common detections by PSP of reconnection exhaust signatures in the HCS at heliocentric distances of 29.5–107 solar radii during encounters 1, 4, and 5. Both sunward and antisunward-directed reconnection exhausts were observed. In the sunward reconnection exhausts, PSP detected counterstreaming strahl electrons, indicating that HCS reconnection resulted in the formation of closed magnetic field lines with both ends connected to the Sun. In the antisunward exhausts, PSP observed dropouts of strahl electrons, consistent with the reconnected HCS field lines being disconnected from the Sun. The common detection of reconnection in the HCS suggests that reconnection is almost always active in the HCS near the Sun. Furthermore, the occurrence of multiple long-duration partial crossings of the HCS suggests that HCS reconnection could produce chains of large bulges with spatial dimensions of up to several solar radii. The finding of the prevalence of reconnection in the HCS is somewhat surprising since PSP has revealed that the HCS is much thicker than the kinetic scalesmore »required for reconnection onset. The observations are also in stark contrast with the apparent absence of reconnection in most of the small-scale and much more intense current sheets encountered near perihelia, many of which are associated with “switchbacks”. Thus, the PSP findings suggest that large-scale dynamics, either locally in the solar wind or within the coronal source of the HCS (at the tip of helmet streamers), plays a critical role in triggering reconnection onset.« less
  5. Abstract Parker Solar Probe (PSP) observed predominately Alfvénic fluctuations in the solar wind near the Sun where the magnetic field tends to be radially aligned. In this paper, two magnetic-field-aligned solar wind flow intervals during PSP’s first two orbits are analyzed. Observations of these intervals indicate strong signatures of parallel/antiparallel-propagating waves. We utilize multiple analysis techniques to extract the properties of the observed waves in both magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) and kinetic scales. At the MHD scale, outward-propagating Alfvén waves dominate both intervals, and outward-propagating fast magnetosonic waves present the second-largest contribution in the spectral energy density. At kinetic scales, we identify the circularly polarized plasma waves propagating near the proton gyrofrequency in both intervals. However, the sense of magnetic polarization in the spacecraft frame is observed to be opposite in the two intervals, although they both possess a sunward background magnetic field. The ion-scale plasma wave observed in the first interval can be either an inward-propagating ion cyclotron wave (ICW) or an outward-propagating fast-mode/whistler wave in the plasma frame, while in the second interval it can be explained as an outward ICW or inward fast-mode/whistler wave. The identification of the exact kinetic wave mode is more difficult to confirm owing tomore »the limited plasma data resolution. The presence of ion-scale waves near the Sun suggests that ion cyclotron resonance may be one of the ubiquitous kinetic physical processes associated with small-scale magnetic fluctuations and kinetic instabilities in the inner heliosphere.« less