Models for astrophysical plasmas often have magnetic field lines that leave the boundary rather than closing within the computational domain. Thus, the relative magnetic helicity is frequently used in place of the usual magnetic helicity, so as to restore gauge invariance. We show how to decompose the relative helicity into a relative field-line helicity that is an ideal-magnetohydrodynamic invariant for each individual magnetic field line, and vanishes along any field line where the original field matches the reference field. Physically, this relative field-line helicity is a magnetic flux, whose specific definition depends on the gauge of the reference vector potential on the boundary. We propose a particular ‘minimal’ gauge that depends only on the reference field and minimises this boundary contribution, so as to reveal topological information about the original magnetic field. We illustrate the effect of different gauge choices using the Low–Lou and Titov–Démoulin models of solar active regions. Our numerical code to compute appropriate vector potentials and relative field-line helicity in Cartesian domains is open source and freely available.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed