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The Universe is permeated by hot, turbulent, magnetized plasmas. Turbulent plasma is a major constituent of active galactic nuclei, supernova remnants, the intergalactic and interstellar medium, the solar corona, the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere, just to mention a few examples. Energy dissipation of turbulent fluctuations plays a key role in plasma heating and energization, yet we still do not understand the underlying physical mechanisms involved. THOR is a mission designed to answer the questions of how turbulent plasma is heated and particles accelerated, how the dissipated energy is partitioned and how dissipation operates in different regimes of turbulence. THOR is a single-spacecraft mission with an orbit tuned to maximize data return from regions in near-Earth space – magnetosheath, shock, foreshock and pristine solar wind – featuring different kinds of turbulence. Here we summarize the THOR proposal submitted on 15 January 2015 to the ‘Call for a Medium-size mission opportunity in ESAs Science Programme for a launch in 2025 (M4)’. THOR has been selected by European Space Agency (ESA) for the study phase.
Relativistic shocks are present in a number of objects where violent processes are accompanied by relativistic outflows of plasma. The magnetization parameter σ = B2/4πnmc2 of the ambient medium varies in wide range. Shocks with low σ are expected to substantially enhance the magnetic fields in the shock front. In non-relativistic shocks the magnetic compression is limited by nonlinear effects related to the deceleration of flow. Two-fluid analysis of perpendicular relativistic shocks shows that the nonlinearities are suppressed for σ≪1 and the magnetic field reaches nearly equipartition values when the magnetic energy density is of the order of the ion energy density, Beq2 ~ 4πnmic2γ. A large cross-shock potential eφ/mic2γ0 ~ B2/Beq2 develops across the electron–ion shock front. This potential is responsible for electron energization.
Plasma filamentation is often encountered in collisionless shocks and inertial confinement fusion. We develop a general analytical description of the two-dimensional relativistic filamentary equilibrium and derive the conditions for existence of potential-free equilibria. A pseudopotential equation for the vector-potential is constructed for cold and relativistic Maxwellian distributions. The role of counter-streaming is explained. We present single current sheet and periodic current sheet solutions, and analyze the equilibria with electric potential. These solutions can be used to study linear and nonlinear evolution of the relativistic filamentation instability.
Reconnection is believed to be responsible for plasma acceleration in a large number of space and astrophysical objects. Onset of reconnection is usually related to instabilities of current sheet equilibria. Analytical self-consistent models of an equilibrium current sheet (Harris equilibrium) are known for non-relativistic plasmas and some special cases of relativistic plasmas. We develop a description of generalized Harris equilibria in collisionless non-relativistic and relativistic plasmas. Possible shapes of the magnetic field are analyzed.
The width of a quasi-perpendicular collisionless shock front is smaller than the convective ion gyroradius so that ions become demagnetized in the ramp. An approach is proposed for derivation of approximate expressions for the magnetic compression ratio and cross-shock potential from the analysis of the ion motion across the ramp and pressure balance condition, without making assumptions about the ion equation of state. The cross-shock potential and magnetic compression ratio are found as functions of the Mach number for low-Mach-number perpendicular shocks.
The nonlinear theory of large-amplitude magnetosonic (MS) waves in highβ space plasmas is revisited. It is shown that solitary waves can exist in the form of ‘bright’ or ‘dark’ solitons in which the magnetic field is increased or decreased relative to the background magnetic field. This depends on the shape of the equilibrium ion distribution function. The basic parameter that controls the nonlinear structure is the wave dispersion, which can be either positive or negative. A general dispersion relation for MS waves propagating perpendicularly to the external magnetic field in a plasma with an arbitrary velocity distribution function is derived.It takes into account general plasma equilibria, such as the Dory–Guest–Harris (DGH) or Kennel–Ashour-Abdalla (KA) loss-cone equilibria, as well as distributions with a power-law velocity dependence that can be modelled by κdistributions. It is shown that in a bi-Maxwellian plasma the dispersion is negative, i.e. the phase velocity decreases with an increase of the wavenumber. This means that the solitary solution in this case has the form of a ‘bright’ soliton with the magnetic field increased. On the contrary, in some non-Maxwellian plasmas, such as those with ring-type ion distributions or DGH plasmas, the solitary solution may have the form of a magnetic hole. The results of similar investigations based on nonlinear Hall–MHD equations are reviewed. The relevance of our theoretical results to existing satellite wave observations is outlined.
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