skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on February 1, 2023

Title: Kinetic-scale Current Sheets in the Solar Wind at 1 au: Scale-dependent Properties and Critical Current Density
Abstract We present analysis of 17,043 proton kinetic-scale current sheets (CSs) collected over 124 days of Wind spacecraft measurements in the solar wind at 11 samples s −1 magnetic field resolution. The CSs have thickness, λ, from a few tens to one thousand kilometers with typical values around 100 km, or within about 0.1–10 λ p in terms of local proton inertial length, λ p . We found that the current density is larger for smaller-scale CSs, J 0 ≈ 6 nAm −2 · ( λ /100 km) −0.56 , but does not statistically exceed a critical value, J A , corresponding to the drift between ions and electrons of local Alvén speed. The observed trend holds in normalized units: J 0 / J A ≈ 0.17 · ( λ / λ p ) − 0.51 . The CSs are statistically force-free with magnetic shear angle correlated with CS spatial scale: Δ θ ≈ 19 ° · ( λ / λ p ) 0.5 . The observed correlations are consistent with local turbulence being the source of proton kinetic-scale CSs in the solar wind, while the mechanisms limiting the current density remain to be understood.
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal Letters
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract We present a data set and properties of 18,785 proton kinetic-scale current sheets collected over 124 days in the solar wind using magnetic field measurements at 1/11 s resolution aboard the Wind spacecraft. We show that all of the current sheets are in the parameter range where reconnection is not suppressed by diamagnetic drift of the X-line. We argue this necessary condition for magnetic reconnection is automatically satisfied due to the geometry of current sheets dictated by their source, which is the local plasma turbulence. The current sheets are shown to be elongated along the background magnetic field and dependence of the current sheet geometry on local plasma beta is revealed. We conclude that reconnection in the solar wind is not likely to be suppressed or controlled by the diamagnetic suppression condition.
  2. Context. Flux ropes in the solar wind are a key element of heliospheric dynamics and particle acceleration. When associated with current sheets, the primary formation mechanism is magnetic reconnection and flux ropes in current sheets are commonly used as tracers of the reconnection process. Aims. Whilst flux ropes associated with reconnecting current sheets in the solar wind have been reported, their occurrence, size distribution, and lifetime are not well understood. Methods. Here we present and analyse new Solar Orbiter magnetic field data reporting novel observations of a flux rope confined to a bifurcated current sheet in the solar wind. Comparative data and large-scale context is provided by Wind. Results. The Solar Orbiter observations reveal that the flux rope, which does not span the current sheet, is of ion scale, and in a reconnection formation scenario, existed for a prolonged period of time as it was carried out in the reconnection exhaust. Wind is also found to have observed clear signatures of reconnection at what may be the same current sheet, thus demonstrating that reconnection signatures can be found separated by as much as ∼2000 Earth radii, or 0.08 au. Conclusions. The Solar Orbiter observations provide new insight into the hierarchymore »of scales on which flux ropes can form, and show that they exist down to the ion scale in the solar wind. The context provided by Wind extends the spatial scale over which reconnection signatures have been found at solar wind current sheets. The data suggest the local orientations of the current sheet at Solar Orbiter and Wind are rotated relative to each other, unlike reconnection observed at smaller separations; the implications of this are discussed with reference to patchy vs. continuous reconnection scenarios.« less
  3. 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
  4. Abstract Particle acceleration behind a shock wave due to interactions between magnetic islands in the heliosphere has attracted attention in recent years. The downstream acceleration may yield a continuous increase of particle flux downstream of the shock wave. Although it is not obvious how the downstream magnetic islands are produced, it has been suggested that current sheets are involved in the generation of magnetic islands due to their interaction with a shock wave. We perform 2D hybrid kinetic simulations to investigate the interaction between multiple current sheets and a shock wave. In the simulation, current sheets are compressed by the shock wave and a tearing instability develops at the compressed current sheets downstream of the shock. As the result of this instability, the electromagnetic fields become turbulent and magnetic islands form well downstream of the shock wave. We find a “post-cursor” region in which the downstream flow speed normal to the shock wave in the downstream rest frame is decelerated to ∼ 1 V A immediately behind the shock wave, where V A is the upstream Alfvén speed. The flow speed then gradually decelerates to 0 accompanied by the development of the tearing instability. We also observe an efficient productionmore »of energetic particles above 100 E 0 during the development of the instability some distance downstream of the shock wave, where E 0 = m p V A 2 and m p is the proton mass. This feature corresponds to Voyager observations showing that the anomalous cosmic-ray intensity increase begins some distance downstream of the heliospheric termination shock.« less
  5. 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