Misestimation of temperature when applying Maxwellian distributions to space plasmas described by kappa distributions

Georgios Nicolaou, George Livadiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


This paper presents the misestimation of temperature when observations from a kappa distributed plasma are analyzed as a Maxwellian. One common method to calculate the space plasma parameters is by fitting the observed distributions using known analytical forms. More often, the distribution function is included in a forward model of the instrument’s response, which is used to reproduce the observed energy spectrograms for a given set of plasma parameters. In both cases, the modeled plasma distribution fits the measurements to estimate the plasma parameters. The distribution function is often considered to be Maxwellian even though in many cases the plasma is better described by a kappa distribution. In this work we show that if the plasma is described by a kappa distribution, the derived temperature assuming Maxwell distribution can be significantly off. More specifically, we derive the plasma temperature by fitting a Maxwell distribution to pseudo-data produced by a kappa distribution, and then examine the difference of the derived temperature as a function of the kappa index. We further consider the concept of using a forward model of a typical plasma instrument to fit its observations. We find that the relative error of the derived temperature is highly depended on the kappa index and occasionally on the instrument’s field of view and response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number359
JournalAstrophysics and Space Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Kappa distribution
  • Plasma temperature misestimation


Dive into the research topics of 'Misestimation of temperature when applying Maxwellian distributions to space plasmas described by kappa distributions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this