Onset and Evolution of Magnetic Reconnection in Line-Tied Systems

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:05 AM
William S Daughton1, Cihan Akcay1, Zach Billey2, John Finn1, Ellen Zweibel2 and Walter N Gekelman3, (1)Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States, (2)University of Wisconsin Madison, Physics, Madison, WI, United States, (3)UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, United States
In space and astrophysical plasmas, current sheets arise spontaneously from the interaction of large-scale flows or magnetic structures. As these current layers approach kinetic scales, they may become unstable to the collisionless tearing instability, resulting in the formation and interaction of magnetic flux ropes. While theoretical treatments of the tearing instability have largely focused on 1D equilibria with periodic boundary conditions, current sheets in nature have a finite spatial extent and are embedded within larger open systems.  In many applications, the field boundary conditions are line-tied as in the case of flux ropes on the dayside magnetopause where the ionosphere acts as a conducting surface.  To assess the applicability of existing tearing theory to these more realistic configurations, we consider a series of 3D kinetic simulations of initially force-free current layers with line-tied boundary conditions for the fields, and open boundaries for the particles. The geometry and plasma parameters are motivated by a new laboratory experiment on the Large Plasma Device at UCLA.  For sufficiently long systems, we demonstrate that key aspects of the theory remain valid, and a threshold condition is derived for the onset of reconnection in line-tied systems. To gain additional insight into the nonlinear evolution, field-line mapping diagnostics are employed to characterize the 3D structure of the magnetic field, the nonlinear reconnection rate and the dominant non-ideal terms in the generalized Ohm’s law.