EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Electron and ion velocity distribution functions across one-dimensional tangential discontinuities: particle-in-cell simulations

Gabriel Voitcu1 and Marius Echim1,2
Gabriel Voitcu and Marius Echim
  • 1Institute of Space Science, Space Plasma and Magnetometry Laboratory, Magurele, Romania (
  • 2Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Brussels, Belgium (
Tangential discontinuities are finite-width current sheets separating two magnetized plasmas with different macroscopic properties. Such structures have been measured in-situ in the solar wind plasma by various space missions. Also, under certain conditions, the terrestrial magnetopause can be approximated with a tangential discontinuity. Studying the microstructure of tangential discontinuities is fundamentally important to understand the transfer of mass, momentum and energy in space plasmas. The propagation of solar wind discontinuities and their interaction with the terrestrial magnetosphere play a significant role for space weather science. In this paper we use 1d3v electromagnetic particle-in-cell simulations to study the kinetic structure and stability of one-dimensional tangential discontinuities. The simulation setup corresponds to a plasma slab configuration which allows the simultaneous investigation of two discontinuities at the interface between the slab population and the background plasma. The initial discontinuities are infinitesimal and evolve rapidly towards finite-width transition layers. We focus on tangential discontinuities with and without perpendicular velocity shear. Three-dimensional velocity distribution functions are computed in different locations across the discontinuities, at different time instances, for both electrons and ions. We emphasize the space and time evolution of the velocity distribution functions inside the transition layers and discuss their deviation from the initial Maxwellian distributions. The simulated distributions show similar features with the theoretical solutions provided by Vlasov equilibrium models.

How to cite: Voitcu, G. and Echim, M.: Electron and ion velocity distribution functions across one-dimensional tangential discontinuities: particle-in-cell simulations, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-15565,, 2021.

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