Reconsideration of pressure anisotropy thresholds in the solar wind assuming bi-kappa distributions

Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Patrick Astfalk1, Frank Jenko2 and Tobias Görler1, (1)Max-Planck-Institute for Plasma Physics, Garching, Germany, (2)University of California Los Angeles, Physics & Astronomy, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Recent space observations revealed that pressure anisotropies in the solar wind are restricted to a clearly constrained parameter space. The observed constraints are believed to stem from kinetic plasma instabilities which feed on the free energy supplied by the pressure anisotropies. E.g., if the parallel pressure sufficiently exceeds the perpendicular pressure, a plasma eventually becomes subject to the parallel and the oblique firehose instability. The nonlinear saturation mechanisms of both instabilities are expected to shape the upper boundary of the pressure anisotropies observed in the solar wind, in the regime pparallel > pperp. However, it is still an open question which instability dominates this process. Despite the nonlinear nature of the saturation process, the linear instability threshold is expected to be of major importance, since it sets the limit for marginal stability. Only recently, first attempts were made to study the linear growth of the parallel firehose instability assuming more realistic bi-kappa velocity distributions instead of traditionally used bi-Maxwellians. We apply a newly developed, fully kinetic dispersion solver to numerically derive the instability thresholds for both firehose instabilities. In contrast to former findings, we observe that suprathermal particle populations lead to an enhancement of the parallel firehose instability close to the threshold, implying a lowering of the threshold especially for low beta setups. This is supposedly due to enhanced cyclotron resonance. For the first time ever, we also look at the oblique firehose threshold and find a contrary picture. Here, the presence of suprathermal particles leads to an increase of the instability threshold. Our findings deepen the understanding of the competition of both instabilities in the solar wind and call for a critical re-examination of existing models.