Recent developments in collisionless reconnection theory: Applications to laboratory and space plasmas

A. Bhattacharjee, Z. W. Ma, Xiaogang Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Recent developments in the theory and simulation of nonlinear collisionless reconnection hold the promise for providing solutions to some outstanding problems in laboratory and space plasma physics. Examples of such problems are sawtooth oscillations in tokamaks, magnetotail substorms, and impulsive solar flares. In each of these problems, a key issue is the identification of fast reconnection rates that are insensitive to the mechanism that breaks field lines (resistivity and/or electron inertia). The classical models of Sweet-Parker and Petschek sought to resolve this issue in the realm of resistive magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). However, the plasmas mentioned above are weakly collisional, and hence obey a generalized Ohm's law in which the Hall current and electron pressure gradient terms play a crucial role. Recent theoretical models and simulations on impulsive (or triggered) as well as quasisteady reconnection governed by a generalized Ohm's law are reviewed. In the impulsive reconnection problem, not only is the growth rate fast but the time derivative of the growth rate changes rapidly. In the steady-state reconnection problem, explicit analytical expressions are obtained for the geometric characteristics (that is, length and width) of the reconnection layer and the reconnection rate. Analytical results are tested by Hall MHD simulations. While some of the geometric features of the reconnection layer and the weak dependence of the reconnection rate on resistivity are reminiscent of Petschek's classical model, the underlying wave and particle dynamics mediating the reconnection dynamics in the presence of the Hall current and electron pressure gradient are qualitatively different. Quantitative comparisons are made between theory and observations from laboratory as well as space plasmas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1829-1839
Number of pages11
JournalPhysics of Plasmas
Issue number5 II
StatePublished - May 2001
Externally publishedYes
Event42nd Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics - Quebec, Que, Canada
Duration: Oct 23 2000Oct 27 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics


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