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You are on page 1of 12

Jörg Weingrill

June 5, 2003

1 Introduction

As we leave the three well known stages of matter solid, liquid and gas, we enter

the world of plasma. The whole universe beginning at the earth’s ionosphere

consists of plasma. If we heat up gas to a point where the atoms are split into

positive ions and electrons it becomes electrically conductive and allows current

flows within.

As we know on one hand electric currents cause a magnetic field and on the other

magnetic fields imply a force (called the Lorentz force) on charged particles.

The magnetohydrodynamics (abbrevated MHD) deals with interaction between

plasma and a magnetic field. A magnetic field causes several physical effects on

a plasma[1, chapter 2]:

• acceleration and creation of structures

• conversion of energy in e.g. solar flares

• thermal isolation

• instabilities and waves

The concept of magnetic reconnection was introduced by Giovanelli (1946).

The term was defined somehow lateron. Magnetic reconnection itself appears

in different length and time scales beginning at the solar corona and ending up

in active galactic nuclei.

2 Basic Equations

2.1 Maxwell’s equations

Electromagnetism as one part of MHD can be described by Maxwell’s equations:

∂D

∇×H = j+ , ∇B = 0 (1)

∂t

∂B

∇×E = − , ∇D = ρc (2)

∂t

And additionally:

B = µH, D = ²E (3)

Where H is the magnetic field, j the current density, D the electric displacement,

B the magnetic induction, E electric field and ρc the charge density. In addition

Ohm’s law using the conductivity σ may be written as:

E = j/σ (4)

The other part of MHD roots in general fluid dynamics, which are described by

the equations:

dv

ρ = −∇p (5)

dt

dρ

+ ρ∇v = 0 (6)

dt

p = <ρT (7)

1

Here ρ is the plasma density and v its velocity vector. The plasma pressure

p is a function of the gas constant < and the temperature T as known from

the perfect gas law. Equation (5) explains that the sum of plasma movement

is equal to the sum of forces acting on the plasma. Equation (6) represents the

mass continuity.

Since the displacement current in eqn. (1) is negligible as no relativistic veloci-

ties are assumed in plasmas. By substituting H in eqn. (1) with eqn. (3) and

considering the Lorentz force (j × B) on plasmas we get:

j = ∇ × B/µ (8)

E = −v × B + j/σ (9)

If we substitute j using Ampère’s law (8) and E using eqn. (2) we obtain the

results:

∂B ∇ × (∇ × B)

= ∇ × (v × B) − , η = (µσ)−1 ⇒ (10)

∂t µσ

∂B

= ∇ × (v × B) + η∇2 B (11)

∂t

The last equation (11) is known as the induction equation. The constant η is

called magnetic diffusitivity. It explains the importance of the plasma velocity v

and its magnetic field B. The electric field E and the current flow j are secondary

and may be calculated by using eqn. (8) and (9).

The Reynolds number Rm describes the balance between the first and the second

term in eqn. (11):

∇ × (v × B) l0 V 0

Rm = 2

≈ (12)

η∇ B η

Where we introduce the typical plasma velocity V0 and length scale l0 . As

in fluid mechanics Rm shows whether the induction equation is governed by

diffusion or not. Usually Rm ≈ 109 can be assumed for the whole universe of

plasma physics, except in current sheets where Rm ≤ 1 so that the second term

in eqn. (11) becomes important. Also time scales τd = L2 /η and the speed of

diffusion vd = η/L are strictly connected to the Reynolds number.

Flux tubes are cylindrical magnetic field topologies that can be described as[1]:

µ ¶

dBz 1 d(RBφ )

j = 0, − , (14)

dR R dR

The twist or helicity is denoted by the parameter Φ

LBφ

Φ= (15)

RBz

2

Usually the twist is a function of R the radius. Taking a pressure gradient from

the Lorentz force into account(∇p = j × B), we get:

Ã !

dp d Bφ2 + Bz2 Bφ2

+ + =0 (16)

dR dR 2µ µR

3 Magnetic Annihilation

As a current sheet diffuses away, magnetic energy is converted into ohmic heat.

If we assume a one-dimensional magnetic field:

∂B ∂2B

=η 2 (17)

∂t ∂x

with the initial conditions: B(x, 0) = B0 where x > 0 and B(−x, 0) = −B0 else

at t = 0. This differential equation is similar to the heat induction equation,

which states that heat flows from hot areas to cool ones. As the total magnetic

flux remains constant, the magnetic energy decreases in time. The loss of energy

results in ohmic heating. The field strength in the middle (x = 0) is cancelled,

but plasma cannot be destroyed, it has to flow out perpendicular. Reconsidering

Ohm’s law,

E = −v × B + η∇ × B (18)

it is obviously that E is directed in the z-direction. In case of a steady-state

flow E has to be constant. The magnetic field diffuses through the plasma in

the current sheet and is frozen in the plasma at the outside. Magnetic field

line conservation represents the fact that a plasma element will remain on the

same field line due to plasma movement. Similar the magnetic flux conservation

explains that the magnetic flux through a field remains constant as a moving

plasma changes the topology of this field.

A current sheet is created between two magnetic fields with opposite polarity.[3,

chapter 9.1.2.] The current density J in a current sheet with half-thickness d is

given by Ampère’s law:

c cB

J= ∇×V ≈ (19)

4π 4πd

c2

d≈ (20)

4πV⊥ σ

The electric fields inside and outside are given by Faraday’s law:

Eout = J/σ (22)

3

4.1 X-type Collapse

Usually a magnetic field is in equilibrium between the magnetic pressure force

and magnetic tension force. If one force is larger in e.g. x-direction the other

one will be larger in y-direction. This will cause the X-type neutral point to

collapse.

If the sources of a magnetic field move slowly together several current sheets

may be forced together and form out a new one. Such kind causes a realignment

of the magnetic field obviously.

5 Reconnection Models

According to the Anti-reconnection Theorem ”[a] steady 2D reconnection (with

plasma flow across separatices) is impossible if v ¿ vA everywhere (and viscosity

is negligible and magnetic diffusivity η is uniform).”[1, chapter 6.5] Therefor only

a fast reconnection process is possible.

A simple diffusion region is 2L in length and the distance between the op-

posing fields is 2l. We have an plasma inflow vi and a magnetic field Bi and an

outflow vo at Bo . The electric current is

Bi

j≈ (23)

µl

and the resulting Lorentz force along the sheet is

Bi Bo

(j × B)x ≈ jBo = (24)

µl

We get the solution

B2

vo2 = i ≡ vAi

2

(25)

µρ

√

vA ≈ 2.03 · 1011B / ne cms−1 (26)

4

In other words, the plasma is accelerated to the Alfven speed. It is the maximum

velocity, a magnetic tension can travel through a magnetic field.

Compared to the inflow of kinetic energy, the inflow of electromagnetic energy is

much larger. Considering the flux conservation, the half of inflowing magnetic

energy is converted to magnetic energy. We see that magnetic reconnection

produces fast streams of hot plasma. If we take a look at the produced electrical

energy,

j2

Ej = + vj × B (27)

σ

we see that one part comes from ohmic heat, and the other from the Lorentz

force.

Fast Reconnection in tiny Sweet-Parker diffusion regions is only possible, if the

reconnection rate (Me ) is sufficiently larger than the Sweet-Parker rate (Mi )

r

ve 1 η

Me = À Mi = √ = (28)

vAe Rmi Lv Ai

In eqn. (28) ve and vAe are the plasma and Alfvenic velocities at large (”exter-

nal”) distances from the X-point.

The Sweet-Parker model is a so called dissipative model. A finite conductiv-

ity is necessary to break the flux conservation and to reconnect the magnetic

flux tubes.[2, p. 1753] Typically exact solutions of MHD stagnation flows show

straight magnetic field lines and constant plasma conductivity in finite areas.

The magnetic field is dissipated within the current sheet. The thickness of the

current sheet usually grows with increasing inflow speed of the plasma, otherwise

a thin layer with resistive instabilities will result.

This model assumes a large uniform B field and a small perturbation in the

inflow region. Also no current flow appears at the inflow. Slow-mode shocks

are used to explain the energy conversion. Shock waves are responsible for

acceleration and heating the plasma. 2/5 of the inflowing magnetic energy

is converted to ohmic heat and 3/5 is used for acceleration. The maximum

reconnection rate (Me∗ ) is

π

Me∗ ≈ ≈ 0.01 (29)

8 log Rme

The error of this estimation is small, since the variations of log Rme are obviously

small. The Petschek model is a so called non-linear ideal model.

(Priest and Forbes, 1986)

Numerical experiments were quite different as projected by the Petschek Model.

The interest lies in the variation of the reconnection rate as a function of

Mi .1 Proper solutions for the MHD equations (8) and (9)

1 see eqn. (28) for details

5

E+v×B = j/σ (31)

(32)

with ∇v = 0, ∇B = 0, j = ∇ × B/µ, E = const. have to be found. The solutions

are of the kind

B = B e + M e B 1 + . . . , v = M e v1 + . . . (33)

which include an expansion parameter Me ¿ 1 and represent an almost uniform

field. We ignore ∇p in eqn. (30) and j/σ in eqn. (31). With the introduction of a

new parameter b the Unified Theory adapts to several regimes: Compression and

b regime

b<0 slow compression

b=0 Petschek

0<b<1 hybrid expansion

b=1 Sonnerup-like

b>1 flux pile-up2

plasma pressure and field strength in contrary ways. Fast-mode behavior forces

an increase or a decrease for both pressure and magnetic field. The parameter

b is determined by the nature of inflow and outflow at the boundary.

Since MHD simulations require the solution of differential equations, serveral

numerical experiments have been carried out. Most of them were calculated by

Biskamp, which showed serveral interesting features3 :

• the nature of the inflow varies from converging to diverging streamlines

• the inflow field lines may be highly curved and the shock angle large

• strong jets of plasma flowing out along the separatrices

• spikes of reversed current at the ends of the diffusion region

Most of them can be explained by Non-Uniform Models. In simulations R me is

assumed between 1700 and 6000, whereas Me is selected about 0.035 and 0.1

together with a proper b value to simulate different regimes.

1992)

[2, p. 1755] To break up with steady-state models the restrictions of stationarity

and incompressibility have to be omitted. Petschek’s model is extended using a

time-varying local reconnection rate.

A slowly driven current sheet becomes unstable due to a local tangential electric

field caused by reconnection. The current sheet reacts by generating MHD waves

and dissipates. Also shear waves will be generated that travel with a definite

speed - the deHoffmann-Teller velocity.

3 see [1, p. 72]

6

5.6 Compressible Time-Dependent Reconnection Model

(1996)

The non-linear reconnection model is extended with a given electric field. This

field may be variable in time in small areas. Also compressible MHD solutions

are taken into account, which are fully self-consistent and overcomes the neces-

sity of the boundary conditions that where introduced for the unified theory.

The local reconnection rate is related to the local instabilites. The electric

field pulse and the background conditions control the perturbation in the inflow

regions.

6 Coronal Heating

The solar coronal is a typical scenario of interacting magnetic fields and plasma.

The magnetic field lines have their roots in the photosphere. This is where the

energy is injected to the corona as a Poynting flux

B2

Z 2

∂ J

Z Z Z

(E × H)dS = dV + dV + (vj × B)dV (35)

∂t 2µ σ

which shows that the inflowing electromagnetic energy is converted to magnetic

energy, ohmic heating and magnetic force. Stored energy may be released in a

flare or a prominence, dissipates and heats up the corona or accelerates plasma.

parameter size

length scale L = 1 · 108 m

time scale τ = 10L/vA ≈ 120s

magnetic field B = 100G

density n = 1015 m−3

conductivity σ = 106 Ω−1 m−1

[3, 8.4.2.] Type IV bursts where first identified 1957 by A. Bioschot and J.F.

Denisse. This kind of burst is caused by trapped electrons which show a gyroe-

mission less than three GHz. In this case reconnection is responsible for accel-

eration of the electrons. Type IV bursts are therefore associated with eruptive

prominences.

XBPs were discovered in the 1970s from rocket images. Their energy source

was assumed to be an emerging flux. Harvey (1984) showed that only two

7

out of three lie above ”cancelling magnetic features” (CMF). CMFs are pairs of

photospheric magnetic fragments, which approach and cancel themselves. There

are three phases in an XBP/CMF event:

become unconnected in the photosphere and start approaching. An over-

lying flux separates them. A null point is formed in the photosphere by

compression

creates an x-ray bright point. Two reconnected and heated flux tubes are

separated into a small and a large loop

spheric reconnection.

the Converging Flux Model may also represent an elementary heating event that

could heat not just bright points but also coronal loops an, by flux interaction

at the edges of supergranule cells, even coronal holes: indeed the flows that are

driven by the process could also drive the solar wind.”[1, p. 80] Up to now a

proof for this model is still outstanding, though investigations had been carried

out.[4]

8

7 Solar Flares

Two phenomenons are often observed before flares: fast moving satellite sunspots

and new magnetic flux emerging through the photosphere. This may force a re-

arrangement of the magnetic structure and a storage of magnetic energy. Promi-

nences will be pushed up and become instable. Just before the main phase of a

large flare fieldlines start to break and reconnect. During the main phase of a

large flare, the ongoing reconnection creates hot X-ray loops with Hα ribbons

at their foot points. The null point rises up and carries hot plasma loops with

it. Magnetic reconnection in large flares releases the stored magnetic energy.

The trigger of an eruption is not the be certain, therefore numerical experiments

concentrate on reconnection of field lines and the role of foot point motions.

netic field

8.1 Reconnection at the bow shock

Depending on the interplanetary magnetic field magnetic reconnection may oc-

cur at the bow shock heading towards the sun. One prerquisite is the opposite

direction of both magnetic fields.

The subsolar magnetopause is located at

¶1/6

(2.44 · ME )2

µ

r0 = (36)

8πnmp v 2

dipole, n the solar wind density, mp the proton mass and v the solar wind

velocity. The Earth’s effective magnetic momentum is

Magnetic reconnection in the Earth’s magnetosphere is a typical example of

three-dimensional reconnection.[5] All models discussed previously are based on

two-dimensional theories. The additional dimension should simplify the prob-

lem. However the easiest way to accomplish an extension is to convert points

into lines and lines into planes. A good example for this is the creation of the

plasmoid in the Earth’s magnetotail. Two magnetic neutral points are formed,

one x-type that is directed towards Earth and becomes a line which is parallel

to the geomagnetic equator. The second one is an o-type point in the center

of the plasmoid, which becomes a closed loop and initially connects with the

x-line because of the finite size of the magnetic field. An electric field on the

x-line is responsible for plasma transport inside the plasmoid and connection

of the field lines. Slight variations in the magnetic field modifiy the plasmoid

obviously and might lead to helical structures. It appears that reconnection

depends upon the perspective and is only comparable to classic models when

assuming a symmetric magnetic field.

9

Figure 3: Plasmoid in the Earth’s magnetotail (taken from [5])

Hesse and Schindler showed 1988 that a change in magnetic connectivity is cor-

related to the presence of an electric field. Both fields are parallel in the region

where ideal MHD breaks down. Magnetic reconnection in the magnetotail is

As known from solar activities magnetic reconnection might explain the coronal

heating of Anomalous X-ray Pulsars (AXPs) and Soft Gamma-Ray Repeaters

(SGRs).[6] Very strong magnetic fields with B > 1015 G are responsible for the

high luminosity of X-ray flares. Magnetars are born in a supernova collapse

with an concurrent dynamo action. Several events like the X-ray flares show

the similarity to our sun. Large scale electrical currents within a neutron star

are maintained by magnetic stresses. Changes in the magnetic field can be

tracked down in pulse variations. Two effects are capable of producing flares on

magnetars:

10

• magnetospheric currents not longer in equilibrium with the magnetic fields

Both show up some kind of magnetic reconnection, which is responsible to re-

lease the magnetic energy. Because of the extreme environment e.g. the Alfven

velocity is just a fraction of the speed of light. The typical rise-time of a burst is

about 0.01 seconds. The reconnection is said to be relativistic and is no longer

comparable to standard models.

References

[1] J.G. Kirk, D.B. Melrose, E.R. Priest; Plasma Astrophysics; Springer 1994.

[2] M.F. Heyn; Theory of Reconnection Two Dimensions in: Adv. Space Res.

Vol 19. No. 12, pp. 1753-1761, (1997)

http://isass1.solar.isas.ac.jp/nuggets/2000/001215/001215.html

[5] J. Birn, M. Hesse, K. Schidler Theory of Magnetic Reconnection in Three

Dimensions in: Adv. Space Res. Vol 19. No. 12, pp. 1763-1771, (1997)

ph/0303384v1 17 Mar 2003

[7] C.E. Parnell Coronal Heating by Reconnection in: Adv. Space Res. Vol 19.

No. 12, pp. 1853-1860, (1997)

11

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