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Three-dimensional magnetic reconnection in particle-in-cell simulations of anisotropic plasma turbulence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2021

Jeffersson A. Agudelo Rueda*
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK
Daniel Verscharen
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK Space Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA
Robert T. Wicks
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK Department of Mathematics, Physics & Electrical Engineering, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 8ST, UK
Christopher J. Owen
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK
Georgios Nicolaou
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX 78238, USA
Andrew P. Walsh
European Space Astronomy Centre, Urb. Villafranca del Castillo, E-28692 Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
Ioannis Zouganelis
European Space Astronomy Centre, Urb. Villafranca del Castillo, E-28692 Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
Kai Germaschewski
Space Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA
Santiago Vargas Domínguez
Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Observatorio Astronómico Nacional, Ed. 413 Bogotá, Colombia
Email address for correspondence:


We use three-dimensional (3-D) fully kinetic particle-in-cell simulations to study the occurrence of magnetic reconnection in a simulation of decaying turbulence created by anisotropic counter-propagating low-frequency Alfvén waves consistent with critical-balance theory. We observe the formation of small-scale current-density structures such as current filaments and current sheets as well as the formation of magnetic flux ropes as part of the turbulent cascade. The large magnetic structures present in the simulation domain retain the initial anisotropy while the small-scale structures produced by the turbulent cascade are less anisotropic. To quantify the occurrence of reconnection in our simulation domain, we develop a new set of indicators based on intensity thresholds to identify reconnection events in which both ions and electrons are heated and accelerated in 3-D particle-in-cell simulations. According to the application of these indicators, we identify the occurrence of reconnection events in the simulation domain and analyse one of these events in detail. The event is related to the reconnection of two flux ropes, and the associated ion and electron exhausts exhibit a complex 3-D structure. We study the profiles of plasma and magnetic-field fluctuations recorded along artificial-spacecraft trajectories passing near and through the reconnection region. Our results suggest the presence of particle heating and acceleration related to small-scale reconnection events within magnetic flux ropes produced by the anisotropic Alfvénic turbulent cascade in the solar wind. These events are related to current structures of the order of a few ion inertial lengths in size.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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