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Why fast magnetic reconnection is so prevalent


Evolving magnetic fields are shown to generically reach a state of fast magnetic reconnection in which magnetic field line connections change and magnetic energy is released at an Alfvénic rate. This occurs even in plasmas with zero resistivity; only the finiteness of the mass of the lightest charged particle, an electron, is required. The speed and prevalence of Alfvénic or fast magnetic reconnection imply that its cause must be contained within the ideal evolution equation for magnetic fields, $\unicode[STIX]{x2202}\boldsymbol{B}/\unicode[STIX]{x2202}t=\unicode[STIX]{x1D735}\times (\boldsymbol{u}\times \boldsymbol{B})$ , where $\boldsymbol{u}(\boldsymbol{x},t)$ is the velocity of the magnetic field lines. For a generic $\boldsymbol{u}(\boldsymbol{x},t)$ , neighbouring magnetic field lines develop a separation that increases exponentially, as $e^{\unicode[STIX]{x1D70E}(\ell ,t)}$ with $\ell$ the distance along a line. This exponentially enhances the sensitivity of the evolution to non-ideal effects. An analogous effect, the importance of stirring to produce a large-scale flow and enhance mixing, has been recognized by cooks through many millennia, but the importance of the large-scale flow $\boldsymbol{u}$ to reconnection is customarily ignored. In part this is due to the sixty-year focus of recognition theory on two-coordinate models, which eliminate the exponential enhancement that is generic with three coordinates. A simple three-coordinate model is developed, which could be used to address many unanswered questions.

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Journal of Plasma Physics
  • ISSN: 0022-3778
  • EISSN: 1469-7807
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