Transition from ion-coupled to electron-only reconnection: Basic physics and implications for plasma turbulence

P. Sharma Pyakurel, M. A. Shay, T. D. Phan, W. H. Matthaeus, J. F. Drake, J. M. TenBarge, C. C. Haggerty, K. G. Klein, P. A. Cassak, T. N. Parashar, M. Swisdak, A. Chasapis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Using 2.5 dimensional kinetic particle-in-cell simulations, we simulate reconnection conditions appropriate for the magnetosheath and solar wind, i.e., plasma beta (ratio of gas pressure to magnetic pressure) greater than 1 and low magnetic shear (strong guide field). Changing the simulation domain size, we find that the ion response varies greatly. For reconnecting regions with scales comparable to the ion inertial length, the ions do not respond to the reconnection dynamics leading to "electron-only" reconnection with very large quasisteady reconnection rates. Note that in these simulations, the ion Larmor radius is comparable to the ion inertial length. The transition to a more traditional "ion-coupled" reconnection is gradual as the reconnection domain size increases, with the ions becoming frozen-in in the exhaust when the magnetic island width in the normal direction reaches many ion inertial lengths. During this transition, the quasisteady reconnection rate decreases until the ions are fully coupled, ultimately reaching an asymptotic value. The scaling of the ion outflow velocity with the exhaust width during this electron-only to ion-coupled transition is found to be consistent with a theoretical model of a newly reconnected field line. In order to have a fully frozen-in ion exhaust with ion flows comparable to the reconnection Alfvén speed, an exhaust width of at least several ion inertial lengths is needed. In turbulent systems with reconnection occurring between magnetic bubbles associated with fluctuations, using geometric arguments, we estimate that fully ion-coupled reconnection requires magnetic bubble length scales of at least several tens of ion inertial lengths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number082307
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Volume26
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics

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