Using synthetic spacecraft data to interpret compressible fluctuations in solar wind turbulence

K. G. Klein, G. G. Howes, J. M. Tenbarge, S. D. Bale, C. H.K. Chen, C. S. Salem

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90 Scopus citations


Kinetic plasma theory is used to generate synthetic spacecraft data to analyze and interpret the compressible fluctuations in the inertial range of solar wind turbulence. The kinetic counterparts of the three familiar linear MHD wave modes - the fast, Alfvén, and slow waves - are identified, and the properties of the density-parallel magnetic field correlation for these kinetic wave modes are presented. The construction of synthetic spacecraft data, based on the quasi-linear premise - that some characteristics of magnetized plasma turbulence can be usefully modeled as a collection of randomly phased, linear wave modes - is described in detail. Theoretical predictions of the density-parallel magnetic field correlation based on MHD and Vlasov-Maxwell linear eigenfunctions are presented and compared to the observational determination of this correlation based on 10years of Wind spacecraft data. It is demonstrated that MHD theory is inadequate to describe the compressible turbulent fluctuations and that the observed density-parallel magnetic field correlation is consistent with a statistically negligible kinetic fast wave energy contribution for the large sample used in this study. A model of the solar wind inertial range fluctuations is proposed composed of a mixture of a critically balanced distribution of incompressible Alfvénic fluctuations and a critically balanced or more anisotropic than critical balance distribution of compressible slow wave fluctuations. These results imply that there is little or no transfer of large-scale turbulent energy through the inertial range down to whistler waves at small scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number159
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • plasmas
  • solar wind
  • turbulence


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