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  1. null (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT We present a kinetic stability analysis of the solar wind electron distribution function consisting of the Maxwellian core and the magnetic-field aligned strahl, a superthermal electron beam propagating away from the sun. We use an electron strahl distribution function obtained as a solution of a weakly collisional drift-kinetic equation, representative of a strahl affected by Coulomb collisions but unadulterated by possible broadening from turbulence. This distribution function is essentially non-Maxwellian and varies with the heliospheric distance. The stability analysis is performed with the Vlasov–Maxwell linear solver leopard. We find that depending on the heliospheric distance, the core-strahl electron distribution becomes unstable with respect to sunward-propagating kinetic-Alfvén, magnetosonic, and whistler modes, in a broad range of propagation angles. The wavenumbers of the unstable modes are close to the ion inertial scales, and the radial distances at which the instabilities first appear are on the order of 1 au. However, we have not detected any instabilities driven by resonant wave interactions with the superthermal strahl electrons. Instead, the observed instabilities are triggered by a relative drift between the electron and ion cores necessary to maintain zero electric current in the solar wind frame (ion frame). Contrary to strahl distributions modelled by shifted Maxwellians, the electron strahl obtained as a solution of the kinetic equation is stable. Our results are consistent with the previous studies based on a more restricted solution for the electron strahl. 
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  2. Solar wind provides an example of a weakly collisional plasma expanding from a thermal source in the presence of spatially diverging magnetic-field lines. Observations show that in the inner heliosphere, the electron temperature declines with the distance approximately asTe(r)r0.3r0.7, which is significantly slower than the adiabatic expansion lawr4/3. Motivated by such observations, we propose a kinetic theory that addresses the nonadiabatic evolution of a nearly collisionless plasma expanding from a central thermal source. We concentrate on the dynamics of energetic electrons propagating along a radially diverging magnetic-flux tube. Due to conservation of their magnetic moments, the electrons form a beam collimated along the magnetic-field lines. Due to weak energy exchange with the background plasma, the beam population slowly loses its energy and heats the background plasma. We propose that no matter how weak the collisions are, at large enough distances from the source a universal regime of expansion is established where the electron temperature declines asTe(r)r2/5. This is close to the observed scaling of the electron temperature in the inner heliosphere. Our first-principle kinetic derivation may thus provide an explanation for the slower-than-adiabatic temperature decline in the solar wind. More broadly, it may be useful for describing magnetized collisionless winds from G-type stars.

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  3. ABSTRACT We develop a kinetic theory for the electron strahl, a beam of energetic electrons which propagate from the sun along the Parker-spiral-shaped magnetic field lines. Assuming a Maxwellian electron distribution function in the near-sun region where the plasma is collisional, we derive the strahl distribution function at larger heliospheric distances. We consider the two most important mechanisms that broaden the strahl: Coulomb collisions and interactions with oblique ambient whistler turbulence (anomalous diffusion). We propose that the energy regimes where these mechanisms are important are separated by an approximate threshold, ${\cal E}_\mathrm{ c}$; for the electron kinetic energies ${\cal E}\,\lt\, {\cal E}_\mathrm{ c}$ the strahl width is mostly governed by Coulomb collisions, while for ${\cal E}\,\gt\, {\cal E}_\mathrm{ c}$ by interactions with the whistlers. The Coulomb broadening decreases as the electron energy increases; the whistler-dominated broadening, on the contrary, increases with energy and it can lead to efficient isotropization of energetic electrons and to the formation of the electron halo. The threshold energy ${\cal E}_\mathrm{ c}$ is relatively high in the regions closer to the sun, and it gradually decreases with the distance, implying that the anomalous diffusion becomes progressively more important at large heliospheric distances. At 1 au, we estimate the energy threshold to be about ${\cal E}_\mathrm{ c}\,\sim\, 200\, {\rm eV}$. 
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