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The Role of Proton Cyclotron Resonance as a Dissipation Mechanism in Solar Wind Turbulence

By Lloyd Woodham, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK

The solar wind contains turbulent fluctuations that are part of a continual cascade of energy from large scales down to smaller scales. At ion-kinetic scales, some of this energy is dissipated, resulting in a steepening in the spectrum of magnetic field fluctuations and heating of the ion velocity distributions, however, the specific mechanisms are still poorly understood. Understanding these mechanisms in the collisionless solar wind plasma is a major outstanding problem in the field of heliophysics research.

We use magnetic field and ion moment data from the MFI and SWE instruments on-board the Wind spacecraft to study the nature of solar wind turbulence at ion-kinetic scales. We analyse the spectral properties of magnetic field fluctuations between 0.1 and 5.5 Hz over 2012 using an automated routine, computing high-resolution 92 s power and magnetic helicity spectra. To ensure the spectral features are physical, we make the first in-flight measurement of the MFI ‘noise-floor’ using tail-lobe crossings of the Earth's magnetosphere during early 2004. We utilise Taylor's hypothesis to Doppler-shift into the spacecraft frequency frame, finding that the spectral break observed at these frequencies is best associated with the proton-cyclotron resonance scale, 1/kc, compared to the proton inertial length di and proton gyroscale ρi. This agreement is strongest when we consider periods where βi,perp ~ 1, and is consistent with a spectral break at di for βi,par « 1 and ρi for βi,perp » 1.

Histograms for 2012 of the estimated helicity onset frequency, fb, versus the three characteristic plasma scales, converted into frequencies using Taylor's hypothesis - fL represents fkc, fdi, and fρi, for each column respectively. The data used are for periods where 0.95 ≥ βi,perp ≥ 1.05. The colour-bar represents the column-normalised number of spectra. The black dashed lines represent fb = fL and similarly, the red dashed lines are fb = fL√2 and fb = fL√2, which give the resolution of the wavelet transform about the line fb = fL due to the finite width of the Morlet wavelet in frequency space. We see the best agreement between fb and fkc during these periods.

We also find that the coherent magnetic helicity signature observed at these frequencies is bounded at low frequencies by 1/kc and its absolute value reaches a maximum at ρi. These results hold in both slow and fast wind streams, but with a better correlation in the more Alfvénic fast wind where the helicity signature is strongest. We conclude that these findings are consistent with proton-cyclotron resonance as an important mechanism for dissipation of turbulent energy in the solar wind, occurring at least half the time in our selected interval. However, we do not rule out additional mechanisms.

Woodham et al., 2018, The Role of Proton Cyclotron Resonance as a Dissipation Mechanism in Solar Wind Turbulence: A Statistical Study at Ion-kinetic Scales, ApJ, 856, 49, DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aab03d