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Magnetic reconnection from a multiscale instability cascade View all abstracts by submitter

Paul Bellan   Submitted: 2012-02-15 21:51

Magnetic reconnection, the process whereby magnetic field lines breakand then reconnect to form a different topology, underlies criticaldynamics of magnetically confined plasmas in both natura1, andthe laboratory. Magnetic reconnection involves localizeddiffusion of the magnetic field across plasma, yet observedreconnection rates are typically much higher than can be accounted forusing classical electrical resistivity. It is generally proposedthat the field diffusion underlying fast reconnection results insteadfrom some combination of non-magnetohydrodynamic processes that becomeimportant on the 'microscopic' scale of the ion Larmor radius or theion skin depth. A recent laboratory experiment11 demonstrated atransition from slow to fast magnetic reconnection when a currentchannel narrowed to a microscopic scale, but did not address how amacroscopic magnetohydrodynamic system accesses the microscale. Recenttheoretical models and numerical simulations suggest that amacroscopic, two-dimensional magnetohydrodynamic current sheet mightdo this through a sequence of repetitive tearing and thinning intotwo-dimensional magnetized plasma structures having successively finerscales. Here we report observations demonstrating a cascade ofinstabilities from a distinct, macroscopic-scale magnetohydrodynamicinstability to a distinct, microscopic-scale (ion skin depth)instability associated with fast magnetic reconnection. Theseobservations resolve the full three-dimensional dynamics and giveinsight into the frequently impulsive nature of reconnection in spaceand laboratory plasmas.

Authors: Auna L. Moser & Paul M. Bellan
Projects: None

Publication Status: published as a Nature Letter, February 16, 2012, online on Feb 15
Last Modified: 2012-02-17 08:42
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