skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on February 1, 2023

Title: Flux Rope Merging and the Structure of Switchbacks in the Solar Wind
Abstract A major discovery of Parker Solar Probe (PSP) was the presence of large numbers of localized increases in the radial solar wind speed and associated sharp deflections of the magnetic field—switchbacks (SBs). A possible generation mechanism of SBs is through magnetic reconnection between open and closed magnetic flux near the solar surface, termed interchange reconnection, that leads to the ejection of flux ropes (FRs) into the solar wind. Observations also suggest that SBs undergo merging, consistent with an FR picture of these structures. The role of FR merging in controlling the structure of SBs in the solar wind is explored through direct observations, analytic analysis, and numerical simulations. Analytic analysis reveals key features of the structure of FRs and their scaling with heliocentric distance R, which are consistent with observations and demonstrate the critical role of merging in controlling the structure of SBs. FR merging is shown to energetically favor reductions in the strength of the wrapping magnetic field and the elongation of SBs. A further consequence is the resulting dominance of the axial magnetic field within SBs that leads to the observed characteristic sharp rotation of the magnetic field into the axial direction at the SB boundary. Finally, more » the radial scaling of the SB area in the FR model suggests that the observational probability of SB identification should be insensitive to R , which is consistent with the most recent statistical analysis of SB observations from PSP. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
2109083 1914670
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10323898
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Volume:
925
Issue:
2
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
213
ISSN:
0004-637X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. 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 βmore »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 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
  2. 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.more »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 scales 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
  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 andmore »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.« less
  4. Streamer-blowout coronal mass ejections (SBO-CMEs) are the dominant CME population during solar minimum. Although they are typically slow and lack clear low-coronal signatures, they can cause geomagnetic storms. With the aid of extrapolated coronal fields and remote observations of the off-limb low corona, we study the initiation of an SBO-CME preceded by consecutive CME eruptions consistent with a multi-stage sympathetic breakout scenario. From inner-heliospheric Parker Solar Probe (PSP) observations, it is evident that the SBO-CME is interacting with the heliospheric magnetic field and plasma sheet structures draped about the CME flux rope. We estimate that 18 ± 11% of themore »CME’s azimuthal magnetic flux has been eroded through magnetic reconnection and that this erosion began after a heliospheric distance of ∼0.35 AU from the Sun was reached. This observational study has important implications for understanding the initiation of SBO-CMEs and their interaction with the heliospheric surroundings.« less
  5. Abstract Unlike the nightside aurora, which is controlled mainly by magnetic field reconnection in the magnetotail, the dayside aurora is closely associated with magnetic field merging at the dayside magnetopause. About two decades ago, it was discovered that the aurora is also controlled by solar insolation. Because the finding was based on data acquired mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, an outstanding question is if the auroral solar insolation effect also exists in the Southern Hemisphere. The present study addresses this question by studying dayside auroras from both hemispheres. We analyze 6 years’ worth of Earth disk emissions at far ultraviolet wavelengthsmore »acquired by the Global UltraViolet Imager on-board the Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics satellite from 2002 to 2007. It is found that the solar insolation effect also exists in the Southern Hemisphere. In essence, the energy flux deposited as electron precipitation, is larger when the polar hemisphere is sunlit and is smaller when the polar hemisphere is dark. Because auroras are produced mainly by electron precipitation and because electrons are the main current carrier, this north–south asymmetry is consistent with the previous finding that larger (smaller) field-aligned currents are flowing out of the sunlit (dark) hemisphere. This trend is independent of the solar wind driving, suggesting that it is an effect associated with solar insolation. A small north–south asymmetry in the dayside auroral energy flux was identified. We discuss the asymmetry in the context of magnetospheric current and voltage generators.« less