Bulk ion acceleration and particle heating during magnetic reconnection in a laboratory plasma

Jongsoo Yoo, Masaaki Yamada, Hantao Ji, Jonathan Jara-Almonte, Clayton E. Myers

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33 Scopus citations


Bulk ion acceleration and particle heating during magnetic reconnection are studied in the collisionless plasma of the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX). The plasma is in the two-fluid regime, where the motion of the ions is decoupled from that of the electrons within the ion diffusion region. The reconnection process studied here is quasi-symmetric since plasma parameters such as the magnitude of the reconnecting magnetic field, the plasma density, and temperature are compatible on each side of the current sheet. Our experimental data show that the in-plane (Hall) electric field plays a key role in ion heating and acceleration. The electrostatic potential that produces the in-plane electric field is established by electrons that are accelerated near the electron diffusion region. The in-plane profile of this electrostatic potential shows a "well" structure along the direction normal to the reconnection current sheet. This well becomes deeper and wider downstream as its boundary expands along the separatrices where the in-plane electric field is strongest. Since the in-plane electric field is 3-4 times larger than the out-of-plane reconnection electric field, it is the primary source of energy for the unmagnetized ions. With regard to ion acceleration, the Hall electric field causes ions near separatrices to be ballistically accelerated toward the outflow direction. Ion heating occurs as the accelerated ions travel into the high pressure downstream region. This downstream ion heating cannot be explained by classical, unmagnetized transport theory; instead, we conclude that ions are heated by re-magnetization of ions in the reconnection exhaust and collisions. Two-dimensional (2-D) simulations with the global geometry similar to MRX demonstrate downstream ion thermalization by the above mechanisms. Electrons are also significantly heated during reconnection. The electron temperature sharply increases across the separatrices and peaks just outside of the electron diffusion region. Unlike ions, electrons acquire energy mostly from the reconnection electric field, and the energy gain is localized near the X-point. However, the increase in the electron bulk flow energy remains negligible. These observations support the assertion that efficient electron heating mechanisms exist around the electron diffusion region and that the heat generated there is quickly transported along the magnetic field due to the high parallel thermal conductivity of electrons. Classical Ohmic dissipation based on the perpendicular Spitzer resistivity is too small to balance the measured heat flux, indicating the presence of anomalous electron heating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number055706
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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