We use particle-in-cell simulations to study the nonlinear evolution of ion velocity space instabilities in an idealized problem in which a background velocity shear continuously amplifies the magnetic field. We simulate the astrophysically relevant regime where the shear timescale is long compared to the ion cyclotron period, and the plasma beta is β ∼ 1-100. The background field amplification in our calculation is meant to mimic processes such as turbulent fluctuations or MHD-scale instabilities. The field amplification continuously drives a pressure anisotropy with p > p and the plasma becomes unstable to the mirror and ion cyclotron instabilities. In all cases, the nonlinear state is dominated by the mirror instability, not the ion cyclotron instability, and the plasma pressure anisotropy saturates near the threshold for the linear mirror instability. The magnetic field fluctuations initially undergo exponential growth but saturate in a secular phase in which the fluctuations grow on the same timescale as the background magnetic field (with δB ∼ 0.3 〈B〉 in the secular phase). At early times, the ion magnetic moment is well-conserved but once the fluctuation amplitudes exceed δB ∼ 0.1 〈B〉, the magnetic moment is no longer conserved but instead changes on a timescale comparable to that of the mean magnetic field. We discuss the implications of our results for low-collisionality astrophysical plasmas, including the near-Earth solar wind and low-luminosity accretion disks around black holes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- accretion, accretion disks
- solar wind