We investigate the effects of pitch-angle scattering on the efficiency of particle heating and acceleration by MHD turbulence using phenomenological estimates and simulations of non-relativistic test particles interacting with strong, subsonic MHD turbulence. We include an imposed pitch-angle scattering rate, which is meant to approximate the effects of high-frequency plasma waves and/or velocity space instabilities. We focus on plasma parameters similar to those found in the near-Earth solar wind, though most of our results are more broadly applicable. An important control parameter is the size of the particle mean free path λmfp relative to the scale of the turbulent fluctuations L. For small scattering rates, particles interact quasi-resonantly with turbulent fluctuations in magnetic field strength. Scattering increases the long-term efficiency of this resonant heating by factors of a few times 10, but the distribution function does not develop a significant non-thermal power-law tail. For higher scattering rates, the interaction between particles and turbulent fluctuations becomes non-resonant, governed by particles heating and cooling adiabatically as they encounter turbulent density fluctuations. Rapid pitch-angle scattering can produce a power-law tail in the proton distribution function, but this requires fine-tuning of parameters. Moreover, in the near-Earth solar wind, a significant power-law tail cannot develop by this mechanism because the particle acceleration timescales are longer than the adiabatic cooling timescale set by the expansion of the solar wind. Our results thus imply that MHD-scale turbulent fluctuations are unlikely to be the origin of the v -5 tail in the proton distribution function observed in the solar wind.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- solar wind
- words: acceleration of particles