Electron Power-Law Spectra in Solar and Space Plasmas

M. Oka, J. Birn, M. Battaglia, C. C. Chaston, S. M. Hatch, G. Livadiotis, S. Imada, Y. Miyoshi, M. Kuhar, F. Effenberger, E. Eriksson, Y. V. Khotyaintsev, A. Retinò

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Particles are accelerated to very high, non-thermal energies in solar and space plasma environments. While energy spectra of accelerated electrons often exhibit a power law, it remains unclear how electrons are accelerated to high energies and what processes determine the power-law index δ. Here, we review previous observations of the power-law index δ in a variety of different plasma environments with a particular focus on sub-relativistic electrons. It appears that in regions more closely related to magnetic reconnection (such as the ‘above-the-looptop’ solar hard X-ray source and the plasma sheet in Earth’s magnetotail), the spectra are typically soft (δ≳ 4). This is in contrast to the typically hard spectra (δ≲ 4) that are observed in coincidence with shocks. The difference implies that shocks are more efficient in producing a larger non-thermal fraction of electron energies when compared to magnetic reconnection. A caveat is that during active times in Earth’s magnetotail, δ values seem spatially uniform in the plasma sheet, while power-law distributions still exist even in quiet times. The role of magnetotail reconnection in the electron power-law formation could therefore be confounded with these background conditions. Because different regions have been studied with different instrumentations and methodologies, we point out a need for more systematic and coordinated studies of power-law distributions for a better understanding of possible scaling laws in particle acceleration as well as their universality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number82
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Magnetic reconnection
  • Magnetotail
  • Particle acceleration
  • Shocks
  • Solar flares
  • Solar wind


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