Collisionless magnetic reconnection in space plasmas


Magnetic reconnection, the merging of oppositely directed magnetic fields that leads to field reconfiguration, plasma heating, jetting and acceleration, is one of the most celebrated processes in collisionless plasmas. It requires the violation of the frozen-in condition which ties gyrating charged particles to the magnetic field inhibiting diffusion. Ongoing reconnection has been identified in near-Earth space as being responsible for the excitation of substorms, magnetic storms, generation of field aligned currents and their consequences, the wealth of auroral phenomena. Its theoretical understanding is now on the verge of being completed. Reconnection takes place in thin current sheets. Analytical concepts proceeded gradually down to the microscopic scale, the scale of the electron skin depth or inertial length, recognizing that current layers that thin do preferentially undergo spontaneous reconnection. Thick current layers start reconnecting when being forced by plasma inflow to thin. For almost half a century the physical mechanism of reconnection has remained a mystery. Spacecraft in situ observations in combination with sophisticated numerical simulations in two and three dimensions recently clarified the mist, finding that reconnection produces a specific structure of the current layer inside the electron inertial (also called electron diffusion) region around the reconnection site, the X line. Onset of reconnection is attributed to pseudo-viscous contributions of the electron pressure tensor aided by electron inertia and drag, creating a complicated structured electron current sheet, electric fields, and an electron exhaust extended along the current layer. We review the general background theory and recent developments in numerical simulation on collisionless reconnection. It is impossible to cover the entire field of reconnection in a short space-limited review. The presentation necessarily remains cursory, determined by our taste, preferences, and knowledge. Only a small amount of observations is included in order to support the few selected numerical simulations.

  author = {Treumann, R. A. and Baumjohann, W.},
  doi = {10.3389/fphys.2013.00031},
  journal = {Frontiers in Physics: Space Physics},
  language = {en},
  note = {35 Journal Pages, 15 color figures, OPEN ACCESS},
  pages = {ID 31},
  title = {Collisionless magnetic reconnection in space plasmas},
  volume = {1},
  year = {2013},
%O Journal Article
%A Treumann, R. A.
%A Baumjohann, W.
%R 10.3389/fphys.2013.00031
%J Frontiers in Physics: Space Physics
%G en
%O 35 Journal Pages, 15 color figures, OPEN ACCESS
%P ID 31
%T Collisionless magnetic reconnection in space plasmas
%V 1
%D 2013