Nonlinear energy transfer and current sheet development in localized Alfvén wavepacket collisions in the strong turbulence limit

J. L. Verniero, G. G. Howes, K. G. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

In space and astrophysical plasmas, turbulence is responsible for transferring energy from large scales driven by violent events or instabilities, to smaller scales where turbulent energy is ultimately converted into plasma heat by dissipative mechanisms. The nonlinear interaction between counterpropagating Alfvén waves, denoted Alfvén wave collisions, drives this turbulent energy cascade, as recognized by early work with incompressible magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) equations. Recent work employing analytical calculations and nonlinear gyrokinetic simulations of Alfvén wave collisions in an idealized periodic initial state have demonstrated the key properties that strong Alfvén wave collisions mediate effectively the transfer of energy to smaller perpendicular scales and self-consistently generate current sheets. For the more realistic case of the collision between two initially separated Alfvén wavepackets, we use a nonlinear gyrokinetic simulation to show here that these key properties persist: strong Alfvén wavepacket collisions indeed facilitate the perpendicular cascade of energy and give rise to current sheets. Furthermore, the evolution shows that nonlinear interactions occur only while the wavepackets overlap, followed by a clean separation of the wavepackets with straight uniform magnetic fields and the cessation of nonlinear evolution in between collisions, even in the gyrokinetic simulation presented here which resolves dispersive and kinetic effects beyond the reach of the MHD theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number905840103
JournalJournal of Plasma Physics
Volume84
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Astrophysical plasmas
  • Plasma waves
  • Space plasma physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics

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