Topology of turbulence within collisionless plasma reconnection

Hnat, Bogdan; Chapman, Sandra and Watkins, Nicholas (2023). Topology of turbulence within collisionless plasma reconnection. Scientific Reports, 13, article no. 18665.



In near-collisionless plasmas, which are ubiquitous in astrophysics, entropy production relies on fully-nonlinear processes such as turbulence and reconnection, which lead to particle acceleration. Mechanisms for turbulent reconnection include multiple magnetic flux ropes interacting to generate thin current sheets which undergo reconnection, leading to mixing and magnetic merging and growth of coherent structures, unstable reconnection current layers that fragment and turbulent reconnection outflows. All of these processes act across, and encompass, multiple reconnection sites. We use Magnetospheric Multi Scale four-point satellite observations to characterize the magnetic field line topology within a single reconnection current layer. We examine magnetopause reconnection where the spacecraft encounter the Electron Diffusion Region (EDR). We find fluctuating magnetic field with topology identical to that found for dynamically evolving vortices in hydrodynamic turbulence. The turbulence is supported by an electron-magnetohydrodynamic (EMHD) flow in which the magnetic field is effectively frozen into the electron fluid. Accelerated electrons are found in the EDR edge where we identify a departure from this turbulent topology, towards two-dimensional sheet-like structures. This is consistent with a scenario in which sub-ion scale turbulence can suppress electron acceleration within the EDR which would otherwise be possible in the electric field at the X-line.

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