Asymmetric Reconnection With A Shear Flow and Applications to X-line Motion at the Polar Cusps

Monday, 15 December 2014
Christopher Doss1, Colin M Komar1, Matthew Beidler1, Paul Cassak1, Frederick D Wilder2 and Stefan Eriksson2, (1)West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, United States, (2)University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States
Magnetic reconnection at the polar cusps of the magnetosphere is marked by strong asymmetries in plasma density and magnetic field strength in addition to a potentially strong bulk flow shear parallel to the reconnecting magnetic field caused by the solar wind. Much has been learned about the effect of either asymmetries or shear flow on reconnection, but only a handful of studies have addressed systems with both. We perform a careful theoretical, numerical, and observational study of such systems. It is known that an asymmetry in magnetic field offsets the X-line from the center of the diffusion region in the inflow direction toward the weaker magnetic field. A key finding is that this alters the flow profile seen at the X-line relative to expectations from symmetric reconnection results. This causes the X-line to drift in the outflow direction due to the shear flow. We calculate a prediction for the X-line drift speed for arbitrary asymmetric magnetic field strengths and show the result is consistent with two-fluid numerical simulations. These predictions are also shown to be consistent with recent observations of a tailward moving X-line in Cluster observations of reconnection at the polar cusp. The reconnection rate with a shear flow is observed to drop as in symmetric reconnection, and the behavior of the reconnection qualitatively changes when the shear flow speed exceeds the hybrid Alfven speed of the outflow known from asymmetric reconnection theory.