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  1. Abstract

    Particles are accelerated to very high, non-thermal energies during explosive energy-release phenomena in space, solar, and astrophysical plasma environments. While it has been established that magnetic reconnection plays an important role in the dynamics of Earth’s magnetosphere, it remains unclear how magnetic reconnection can further explain particle acceleration to non-thermal energies. Here we review recent progress in our understanding of particle acceleration by magnetic reconnection in Earth’s magnetosphere. With improved resolutions, recent spacecraft missions have enabled detailed studies of particle acceleration at various structures such as the diffusion region, separatrix, jets, magnetic islands (flux ropes), and dipolarization front. With the guiding-center approximation of particle motion, many studies have discussed the relative importance of the parallel electric field as well as the Fermi and betatron effects. However, in order to fully understand the particle acceleration mechanism and further compare with particle acceleration in solar and astrophysical plasma environments, there is a need for further investigation of, for example, energy partition and the precise role of turbulence.

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  2. Accepted, not yet published 
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  3. Abstract

    Thermalization and heating of plasma flows at shocks result in unstable charged-particle distributions that generate a wide range of electromagnetic waves. These waves, in turn, can further accelerate and scatter energetic particles. Thus, the properties of the waves and their implication for wave−particle interactions are critically important for modeling energetic particle dynamics in shock environments. Whistler-mode waves, excited by the electron heat flux or a temperature anisotropy, arise naturally near shocks and foreshock transients. As a result, they can often interact with suprathermal electrons. The low background magnetic field typical at the core of such transients and the large wave amplitudes may cause such interactions to enter the nonlinear regime. In this study, we present a statistical characterization of whistler-mode waves at foreshock transients around Earth’s bow shock, as they are observed under a wide range of upstream conditions. We find that a significant portion of them are sufficiently intense and coherent (narrowband) to warrant nonlinear treatment. Copious observations of background magnetic field gradients and intense whistler wave amplitudes suggest that phase trapping, a very effective mechanism for electron acceleration in inhomogeneous plasmas, may be the cause. We discuss the implications of our findings for electron acceleration in planetary and astrophysical shock environments.

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  4. The current state of the art thermal particle measurements in the solar wind are insufficient to address many long standing, fundamental physical processes. The solar wind is a weakly collisional ionized gas experiencing collective effects due to long-range electromagnetic forces. Unlike a collisionally mediated fluid like Earth’s atmosphere, the solar wind is not in thermodynamic or thermal equilibrium. For that reason, the solar wind exhibits multiple particle populations for each particle species. We can mostly resolve the three major electron populations (e.g., core, halo, strahl, and superhalo) in the solar wind. For the ions, we can sometimes separate the proton core from a secondary proton beam and heavier ion species like alpha-particles. However, as the solar wind becomes cold or hot, our ability to separate these becomes more difficult. Instrumental limitations have prevented us from properly resolving features within each ion population. This destroys our ability to properly examine energy budgets across transient, discontinuous phenomena (e.g., shock waves) and the evolution of the velocity distribution functions. Herein we illustrate both the limitations of current instrumentation and why higher resolutions are necessary to properly address the fundamental kinetic physics of the solar wind. This is accomplished by directly comparing to some current solar wind observations with calculations of velocity moments to illustrate the inaccuracy and incompleteness of poor resolution data. 
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  5. An important question that is being increasingly studied across subdisciplines of Heliophysics is “how do mesoscale phenomena contribute to the global response of the system?” This review paper focuses on this question within two specific but interlinked regions in Near-Earth space: the magnetotail’s transition region to the inner magnetosphere and the ionosphere. There is a concerted effort within the Geospace Environment Modeling (GEM) community to understand the degree to which mesoscale transport in the magnetotail contributes to the global dynamics of magnetic flux transport and dipolarization, particle transport and injections contributing to the storm-time ring current development, and the substorm current wedge. Because the magnetosphere-ionosphere is a tightly coupled system, it is also important to understand how mesoscale transport in the magnetotail impacts auroral precipitation and the global ionospheric system response. Groups within the Coupling, Energetics and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions Program (CEDAR) community have also been studying how the ionosphere-thermosphere responds to these mesoscale drivers. These specific open questions are part of a larger need to better characterize and quantify mesoscale “messengers” or “conduits” of information—magnetic flux, particle flux, current, and energy—which are key to understanding the global system. After reviewing recent progress and open questions, we suggest datasets that, if developed in the future, will help answer these questions. 
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  6. Abstract

    Wind spacecraft measurements are analyzed to obtain a current sheet (CS) normal widthdcsdistribution of 3374 confirmed magnetic reconnection exhausts in the ecliptic plane of the solar wind at 1 au. Thedcsdistribution displays a nearly exponential decay from a peak atdcs= 25dito a median atdcs= 85diand a 95th percentile atdcs= 905diwith a maximum exhaust width atdcs= 8077di. A magnetic fieldθ-rotation angle distribution increases linearly from a relatively few high-shear events toward a broad peak at 35° <θ< 65°. The azimuthalϕangles of the CS normal directions of 430 thickdcs≥ 500diexhausts are consistent with a dominant Parker-spiral magnetic field and a CS normal along the ortho-Parker direction. The CS normal orientations of 370 kinetic-scaledcs< 25diexhausts are isotropic in contrast, and likely associated with Alfvénic solar wind turbulence. We propose that the alignment of exhaust normal directions from narrowdcs∼ 15–25diwidths to well beyonddcs∼ 500diwith an ortho-Parker azimuthal direction of a large-scale heliospheric current sheet (HCS) is a consequence of CS bifurcation and turbulence within the HCS exhaust that may trigger reconnection of the adjacent pair of bifurcated CSs. The proposed HCS-avalanche scenario suggests that the underlying large-scale parent HCS closer to the Sun evolves with heliocentric distance to fracture into many, more or less aligned, secondary CSs due to reconnection. A few wide exhaust-associated HCS-like CSs could represent a population of HCSs that failed to reconnect as frequently between the Sun and 1 au as other HCSs.

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  7. Abstract

    Using combined MHD/test particle simulations, we explore characteristics of ion (proton) acceleration tailward of a near‐Earth reconnection site. We present spatial distributions and explore acceleration mechanisms and sources of accelerated ions. Acceleration is due primarily due simple crossings of the enhanced electric field near the x‐line or in the departing plasmoid. The energetic particle distributions show the expected energy dispersed tailward streaming at the plasma sheet boundary, while equatorial distributions are more complicated, resulting from different acceleration sites within the moving plasmoid. Sources are mostly inside the central plasma sheet dawnward of the plasmoid.

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  8. Abstract

    In Earth’s foreshock, there are many foreshock transients that have core regions with low field strength, low density, high temperature, and bulk velocity variation. Through dynamic pressure perturbations, they can disturb the magnetosphere–ionosphere system. They can also accelerate particles contributing to particle acceleration at the bow shock. Recent Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission observations showed that inside the low field strength core region, there are usually kinetic‐scale magnetic holes with even lower field strength (<1 nT). However, their nature and effects are unknown. In this study, we used MMS observations to conduct case studies on these magnetic holes. We found that they could be subion‐scale current sheets without a magnetic normal component and guide field, driven by the motion of demagnetized electrons. These magnetic holes can also be subion‐scale flux ropes or magnetic helical structures with weak axial field. The low field strength inside them can be either driven by external expansion or electron mirror mode. Electrons inside them show flux depletion at 90° pitch angle resulting in an “electron hole” distribution. These magnetic holes can play a role in electron dynamics, wave excitation, and shaping the foreshock transient structures. Our detailed study of such features sheds light on the turbulent nature of foreshock transient cores.

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  9. Abstract

    Collisionless shocks can be nonstationary with periodic reformation shown in many simulation results, but direct observations are still tenuous and difficult to conclusively interpret. In this study, using Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) observations, we report direct observational evidence of Earth's oblique bow shock reformation driven by the foreshock Ultralow‐Frequency (ULF) waves. When the four MMS spacecraft were in a string‐of‐pearls formation roughly along the bow shock normal, they observed that when each period of foreshock ULF waves encountered the bow shock, a new shock ramp formed. Meanwhile, in the magnetosheath, the old bow shock's remnants were observed periodically convecting downstream. We propose that the reformation mechanism of the oblique bow shock is the variation of the upstream conditions by the periodic ULF waves as they encounter the bow shock. We also examine the nature of reflected ions during the reformation process.

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