EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Free energy sources in kinetic scale current sheets formed in collisionless plasma turbulence

Neeraj Jain and Joerg Buechner
Neeraj Jain and Joerg Buechner
  • Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Technical University Berlin, Berlin, Germany (

Spacecraft observations show the radial dependence of the solar wind temperature to be slower than what is expected from the adiabatic cooling of the solar wind expanding radially outwards from the sun. The most viable process considered to explain the observed slower-than-adiabatic cooling is the heating of the solar wind plasma by dissipation of the turbulent fluctuations. In solar wind which is  a collisionless plasma in turbulent state, macroscopic energy is cascaded down to kinetic scales where kinetic plasma processes can finally dissipate the energy into heat. The kinetic scale plasma processes responsible  for the dissipation of energy are, however, not well understood. A number of observational and simulation studies have shown that the heating is concentrated in and around current sheets self-consistently formed at kinetic scales. The current sheets contain free energy sources for the growth of plasma instabilities which can serve as the mechanism of the collisionless dissipation. A detailed information on the free energy sources contained in these current sheets of plasma turbulence is lacking but essential to understand the role of  plasma instabilities in collisionless dissipation.

We carry out 2-D hybrid simulations of kinetic plasma turbulence to study in detail free energy sources available in the current sheets formed in the turbulence. We focus on three free energy sources, namely, plasma density gradient, velocity gradients for both ions and electrons and ion temperature anisotropy. Our simulations show formation of current sheets in which electric current parallel to the externally applied magnetic field flows in a thickness of the order of an ion inertial length. Inside a current sheet, electron flow velocity dominates ion flow velocity in the parallel direction resulting in a larger cross-gradient of the former. The perpendicular electron velocity inside a current sheet also has variations sharper than the corresponding ion velocity. Cross gradients in plasma density are weak (under 10 % variation inside current sheets). Ion temperature is anisotropic in current sheets. Thus the current in the sheets is primarily due to electron shear flow. A theoretical model to explain the difference between electron and ion velocities in current sheets is developed. Spacecraft observations of electron shear flow in space plasma turbulence will be pointed out.   

These results suggest that the current sheets formed in kinetic plasma turbulence are close to the force free equilibrium rather than the often assumed Harris equilibrium.  This demands investigations of the linear stability properties and nonlinear evolution of force free current sheets with temperature anisotropy. Such studies can provide effective dissipation coefficients to be included in macroscopic model of the solar wind evolution.   

How to cite: Jain, N. and Buechner, J.: Free energy sources in kinetic scale current sheets formed in collisionless plasma turbulence, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-21518,, 2020


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