Rapid magnetic reconnection in the Earth's magnetosphere mediated by whistler waves
Publication date: 30 March 2001
Authors: Deng, X.H. et al.
Copyright: Nature Publishing Group
Magnetic reconnection has a crucial role in a variety of plasma environments in providing a mechanism for the fast release of stored magnetic energy. During reconnection the plasma forms a 'magnetic nozzle', like the nozzle of a hose, and the rate is controlled by how fast plasma can flow out of the nozzle. But the traditional picture of reconnection has been unable to explain satisfactorily the short timescales associated with the energy release, because the flow is mediated by heavy ions with a slow resultant velocity. Recent theoretical work has suggested that the energy release is instead mediated by electrons in waves called 'whistlers', which move much faster for a given perturbation of the magnetic field because of their smaller mass. Moreover, the whistler velocity and associated plasma velocity both increase as the 'nozzle' becomes narrower. A narrower nozzle therefore no longer reduces the total plasma flow-the outflow is independent of the size of the nozzle. Here we report observations demonstrating that reconnection in the magnetosphere is driven by whistlers, in good agreement with the theoretical predictionsLink to publication