Open questions concerning structures and dynamics of diffusion regions and electron acceleration in collisionless magnetic reconnection are addressed based on data from the four-spacecraft mission Cluster and particle-in-cell simulations. Using time series of electron distribution functions measured by the four spacecraft, distinct electron regions around a reconnection layer are mapped out to set the framework for studying diffusion regions. A spatially extended electron current sheet (ecs), a series of magnetic islands, and bursts of energetic electrons within islands are identified during magnetotail reconnection with no appreciable guide field. The ecs is collocated with a layer of electron-scale electric fields normal to the ecs and pointing toward the ecs center plane. Both the observed electron and ion densities vary by more than a factor of 2 within one ion skin depth north and south of the ecs, and from the ecs into magnetic islands. Within each of the identified islands, there is a burst of suprathermal electrons whose fluxes peak at density compression sites [L.-J. Chen, Nat. Phys. 4, 19 (2008)] and whose energy spectra exhibit power laws with indices ranging from 6 to 7.3. These results indicate that the in-plane electric field normal to the ecs can be of the electron scale at certain phases of reconnection, electrons and ions are highly compressible within the ion diffusion region, and for reconnection involving magnetic islands, primary electron acceleration occurs within the islands.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics