The small-scale structure of magnetohydrodynamic turbulence with large magnetic Prandtl numbers

Alexander A. Schekochihin, Jason L. Maron, Steven C. Cowley, James C. McWilliams

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68 Scopus citations


We study the intermittency and field-line structure of the MHD turbulence in plasmas with very large magnetic Prandtl numbers. In this regime, which is realized in the interstellar medium, some accretion disks, protogalaxies, galaxy-cluster gas, the early universe, etc., magnetic fluctuations can be excited at scales below the viscous cutoff. The salient feature of the resulting small-scale magnetic turbulence is the folded structure of the fields. It is characterized by very rapid transverse spatial oscillation of the field direction, while the field lines remain largely unbent up to the scale of the flow. Quantitatively, the fluctuation level and the field-line geometry can be studied in terms of the statistics of the field strength and of the field-line curvature. In the kinematic limit, the distribution of the field strength is an expanding lognormal, while that of the field-line curvature K is stationary and has a power tail ∼K-13/7. The field strength and curvature are anticorrelated, i.e., the growing fields are mostly flat, while the sharply curved fields remain relatively weak. The field, therefore, settles into a reduced-tension state. Numerical simulations demonstrate three essential features of the nonlinear regime. First, the total magnetic energy is equal to the total kinetic energy. Second, the intermittency is partially suppressed compared to the kinematic case, as the fields become more volume-filling and their distribution develops an exponential tail. Third, the folding structure of the field is unchanged from the kinematic case: the anticorrelation between the field strength and the curvature persists, and the distribution of the latter retains the same power tail. We propose a model of back-reaction based on the folding picture that reproduces all of the above numerical results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-813
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Sep 10 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: magnetic fields
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • MHD plasmas
  • Magnetic fields
  • Turbulence


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