High-frequency heating of the solar wind triggered by low-frequency turbulence

Jonathan Squire, Romain Meyrand, Matthew W. Kunz, Lev Arzamasskiy, Alexander A. Schekochihin, Eliot Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The fast solar wind’s high speeds and non-thermal features require that considerable heating occurs well above the Sun’s surface. Two leading theories seem incompatible: low-frequency ‘Alfvénic’ turbulence, which transports energy outwards and is observed ubiquitously by spacecraft but seems insufficient to explain the observed dominance of ion over electron heating; and high-frequency ion-cyclotron waves, which explain the non-thermal heating of ions but lack an obvious source. Here we argue that the recently proposed ‘helicity barrier’ effect, which limits electron heating by inhibiting the turbulent cascade of energy to the smallest scales, can unify these two paradigms. Our six-dimensional simulations show how the helicity barrier causes the large-scale energy to grow through time, generating small parallel scales and high-frequency ion-cyclotron-wave heating from low-frequency turbulence, while simultaneously explaining various other long-standing observational puzzles. The predicted causal link between plasma expansion and the ion-to-electron heating ratio suggests that the helicity barrier could contribute to key observed differences between fast and slow wind streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)715-723
Number of pages9
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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