Magnetic Reconnection in Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:35 AM
Raymond L Fermo, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, United States, Merav Opher, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States and James Frederick Drake, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, United States
Magnetic reconnection is a ubiquitous phenomenon in many varied space and astrophysical plasmas, and as such plays an important role in the dynamics of interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs). It is widely regarded that reconnection is instrumental in the formation and ejection of the initial CME flux rope, but reconnection also continues to affect the dynamics as it propagates through the interplanetary medium. For example, reconnection on the leading edge of the ICME, by which it interacts with the interplanetary medium, leads to flux erosion. However, recent in situ observations by Gosling et al. found signatures of reconnection exhausts in the interior. In light of this data, we consider the stability properties of systems with this flux rope geometry with regard to their minimum energy Taylor state. Variations from this state will result in the magnetic field relaxing back towards the minimum energy state, subject to the constraints that the toroidal flux and magnetic helicity remain invariant. In reversed field pinches, this relaxation is mediated by reconnection in the interior of the system, as has been shown theoretically and experimentally. By treating the ICME flux rope in a similar fashion, we show analytically that the the elongation of the flux tube cross section in the latitudinal direction will result in a departure from the Taylor state. The resulting relaxation of the magnetic field causes reconnection to commence in the interior of the ICME, in agreement with the observations of Gosling et al. We present MHD simulations in which reconnection initiates at a number of rational surfaces, and ultimately produces a stochastic magnetic field. If the time scales for this process are shorter than the propagation time to 1 AU, this result explains why many ICME flux ropes no longer exhibit the smooth, helical flux structure characteristic of a magnetic cloud.