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Electron-Scale Processes in the Solar Wind and Magnetosphere

  • Author(s): Tong, Yuguang
  • Advisor(s): Bale, Stuart D
  • et al.

Plasma, one of the four fundamental states of matter, prevails the universe and accounts for 90\% of the known masses. Interaction between the solar wind, a space plasma with solar origin, and the terrestrial magnetic field shapes the space climate that is crucial for our modern society that heavily dependent on electricity, electronics and satellites. Waves ubiquitously grow, propagate, interact with other waves and plasmas, and eventually damps away in plasmas, significantly altering plasma dynamics and energy transport. Measurements of both plasma particles and electromagnetic fields allow probing wave-plasma interactions of interest.

Part one of the thesis presents a few new results relating to the electron heat flux in the solar wind. Electron heat flux is a poorly understood quantity in weakly collisional or collisionless astrophysical and space plasmas, but it is crucial to modeling large scale systems such as galaxy clusters and stellar winds. We present a statistical study of the electron heat flux in the solar wind and confirm that it is bounded from above by power laws of electron beta. We consider various collisionless processes that potentially reduce the heat flux. In particular, the whistler heat flux instability (WHFI) has long been considered to constrain heat flux in the high beta regime. We show for the first time local generation of whistler waves in the solar wind using high-cadence simultaneous particles and wave measurements onboard ARTEMIS spacecraft. We present the statistical properties of the whistler waves in the solar wind at 1 AU, with evidence supporting WHFIs generating the observed whistler waves. However, we argue that the wave amplitude is too small to effectively reduce the electron heat flux. Accompanied by the electron heat flux is measurable electron bulk drifts with respect to the solar wind protons, which significantly modify Landau resonance of kinetic Alfv en waves (KAWs). We consider the effects of potential KAW instabilities in the context of electron heat flux inhibition.

Part two of the thesis considers a type of electrostatic structure known as the electron phase space hole (EPSH). It is formed in the non-linear stage of plasma streaming instabilities and remains highly stable for long duration. We address for the first time 3D configuration of EPSHs by analyzing multi-spacecraft (using NASA MMS) passing of the same EPSH. The length scale perpendicular to the background magnetic field is directly measured with significant implications to electron motions inside EPSHs. In addition, statistical study of such multi-spacecraft observation reveals strong correlation among parameters of fast EPSHs.

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