Astrophysical gyrokinetics: Basic equations and linear theory

Gregory G. Howes, Steven C. Cowley, William Dorland, Gregory W. Hammett, Eliot Quataert, Alexander A. Schekochihin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

256 Scopus citations


Magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence is encountered in a wide variety of astrophysical plasmas, including accretion disks, the solar wind, and the interstellar and intracluster medium. On small scales, this turbulence is often expected to consist of highly anisotropic fluctuations with frequencies small compared to the ion cyclotron frequency. For a number of applications, the small scales are also collisionless, so a kinetic treatment of the turbulence is necessary. We show that this anisotropic turbulence is well described by a low-frequency expansion of the kinetic theory called gyrokinetics. This paper is the first in a series to examine turbulent astrophysical plasmas in the gyrokinetic limit. We derive and explain the nonlinear gyrokinetic equations and explore the linear properties of gyrokinetics as a prelude to nonlinear simulations. The linear dispersion relation for gyrokinetics is obtained, and its solutions are compared to those of hot-plasma kinetic theory. These results are used to validate the performance of the gyrokinetic simulation code GS2 in the parameter regimes relevant for astrophysical plasmas. New results on global energy conservation in gyrokinetics are also derived. We briefly outline several of the problems to be addressed by future non-linear simulations, including particle heating by turbulence in hot accretion flows and in the solar wind, the magnetic and electric field power spectra in the solar wind, and the origin of small-scale density fluctuations in the interstellar medium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)590-614
Number of pages25
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Nov 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • MHD
  • Methods: numerical
  • Turbulence


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