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Observation of energetic electrons within magnetic islands

Observation of energetic electrons within magnetic islands

Publication date: 15 January 2008

Authors: Chen, L.-J. et al.

Journal: Nature Physics
Volume: 4
Issue: 1
Page: 19-23
Year: 2008

Copyright: Nature Publishing Group

Magnetic reconnection is the underlying process that releases impulsively an enormous amount of magnetic energy in solar flares, flares on strongly magnetized neutron stars and substorms in the Earth's magnetosphere. Studies of energy release during solar flares, in particular, indicate that up to 50% of the released energy is carried by accelerated 20-100 keV suprathermal electrons. How so many electrons can gain so much energy during reconnection has been a long-standing question. A recent theoretical study suggests that volume-filling contracting magnetic islands formed during reconnection can produce a large number of energetic electrons. Here we report the first evidence of the link between energetic electrons and magnetic islands during reconnection in the Earth's magnetosphere. The results indicate that energetic electron fluxes peak at sites of compressed density within islands, which imposes a new constraint on theories of electron acceleration.

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