Linear Vlasov theory of a magnetised, thermally stratified atmosphere

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The stability of a collisionless, magnetised plasma to local convective disturbances is examined, with a focus on kinetic and finite-Larmor-radius effects. Specific application is made to the outskirts of galaxy clusters, which contain hot and tenuous plasma whose temperature increases in the direction of gravity. At long wavelengths (the 'drift-kinetic' limit), we obtain the kinetic version of the magnetothermal instability (MTI) and its Alfvénic counterpart (Alfvénic MTI), which were previously discovered and analysed using a magnetofluid (i.e. Braginskii) description. At sub-ion-Larmor scales, we discover an overstability driven by the electron-Temperature gradient of kinetic-Alfvén drift waves-the electron MTI (eMTI)-whose growth rate is even larger than the standard MTI. At intermediate scales, we find that ion finite-Larmor-radius effects tend to stabilise the plasma. We discuss the physical interpretation of these instabilities in detail, and compare them both with previous work on magnetised convection in a collisional plasma and with temperature-gradient-driven drift-wave instabilities well known to the magnetic-confinement-fusion community. The implications of having both fluid and kinetic scales simultaneously driven unstable by the same temperature gradient are briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number905820507
JournalJournal of Plasma Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


  • magnetized plasmas
  • plasma instabilities
  • space plasma physics


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