Inertial-range kinetic turbulence in pressure-anisotropic astrophysical plasmas

Matthew Walter Kunz, A. A. Schekochihin, C. H.K. Chen, I. G. Abel, S. C. Cowley

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A theoretical framework for low-frequency electromagnetic (drift-)kinetic turbulence in a collisionless, multi-species plasma is presented. The result generalises reduced magnetohydrodynamics (RMHD) and kinetic RMHD (Schekochihin et al., Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser., vol. 182, 2009, pp. 310-377) to the case where the mean distribution function of the plasma is pressure-anisotropic and different ion species are allowed to drift with respect to each other - A situation routinely encountered in the solar wind and presumably ubiquitous in hot dilute astrophysical plasmas such as the intracluster medium. Two main objectives are achieved. First, in a non-Maxwellian plasma, the relationships between fluctuating fields (e.g. The Alfvén ratio) are order-unity modified compared to the more commonly considered Maxwellian case, and so a quantitative theory is developed to support quantitative measurements now possible in the solar wind. Beyond these order-unity corrections, the main physical feature of low-frequency plasma turbulence survives the generalisation to non-Maxwellian distributions: Alfvénic and compressive fluctuations are energetically decoupled, with the latter passively advected by the former; the Alfvénic cascade is fluid, satisfying RMHD equations (with the Alfvén speed modified by pressure anisotropy and species drifts), whereas the compressive cascade is kinetic and subject to collisionless damping (and for a bi-Maxwellian plasma splits into three independent collisionless cascades). Secondly, the organising principle of this turbulence is elucidated in the form of a conservation law for the appropriately generalised kinetic free energy. It is shown that non-Maxwellian features in the distribution function reduce the rate of phase mixing and the efficacy of magnetic stresses, and that these changes influence the partitioning of free energy amongst the various cascade channels. As the firehose or mirror instability thresholds are approached, the dynamics of the plasma are modified so as to reduce the energetic cost of bending magnetic-field lines or of compressing/rarefying them. Finally, it is shown that this theory can be derived as a long-wavelength limit of non-Maxwellian slab gyrokinetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number325810501
JournalJournal of Plasma Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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