Statistical uncertainties of space plasma properties described by kappa distributions

Georgios Nicolaou, George Livadiotis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The velocities of space plasma particles often followkappa distribution functions, which have characteristic high energy tails. The tails of these distributions are associated with low particle flux and, therefore, it is challenging to precisely resolve them in plasma measurements. On the other hand, the accurate determination of kappa distribution functions within a broad range of energies is crucial for the understanding of physical mechanisms. Standard analyses of the plasma observations determine the plasma bulk parameters from the statistical moments of the underlined distribution. It is important, however, to also quantify the uncertainties of the derived plasma bulk parameters, which determine the confidence level of scientific conclusions. We investigate the determination of the plasma bulk parameters from observations by an ideal electrostatic analyzer. We derive simple formulas to estimate the statistical uncertainties of the calculated bulk parameters. We then use the forward modelling method to simulate plasma observations by a typical top-hat electrostatic analyzer. We analyze the simulated observations in order to derive the plasma bulk parameters and their uncertainties. Our simulations validate our simplified formulas. We further examine the statistical errors of the plasma bulk parameters for several shapes of the plasma velocity distribution function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number541
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


  • Kappa distributions
  • Methods
  • Plasmas


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