Experimental observation of 3-D, impulsive reconnection events in a laboratory plasma

S. Dorfman, H. Ji, M. Yamada, J. Yoo, E. Lawrence, C. Myers, T. D. Tharp

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Fast, impulsive reconnection is commonly observed in laboratory, space, and astrophysical plasmas. In this work, impulsive, local, 3-D reconnection is identified for the first time in a laboratory current sheet. The two-fluid, impulsive reconnection events observed on the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) [Yamada et al., Phys Plasmas 4, 1936 (1997)] cannot be explained by 2-D models and are therefore fundamentally three-dimensional. Several signatures of flux ropes are identified with these events; 3-D high current density regions with O-point structure form during a slow buildup period that precedes a fast disruption of the reconnecting current layer. The observed drop in the reconnection current and spike in the reconnection rate during the disruption are due to ejection of these flux ropes from the layer. Underscoring the 3-D nature of the events, strong out-of-plane gradients in both the density and reconnecting magnetic field are found to play a key role in this process. Electromagnetic fluctuations in the lower hybrid frequency range are observed to peak at the disruption time; however, they are not the key physics responsible for the impulsive phenomena observed. Important features of the disruption dynamics cannot be explained by an anomalous resistivity model. An important discrepancy in the layer width and force balance between the collisionless regime of MRX and kinetic simulations is also revisited. The wider layers observed in MRX may be due to the formation of flux ropes with a wide range of sizes; consistent with this hypothesis, flux rope signatures are observed down to the smallest scales resolved by the diagnostics. Finally, a 3-D two-fluid model is proposed to explain how the observed out-of-plane variation may lead to a localized region of enhanced reconnection that spreads in the direction of the out-of-plane electron flow, ejecting flux ropes from the layer in a 3-D manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number012109
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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