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School of Physics and Astronomy

Astronomy Unit Seminar -- Matthew Kunz

When: Friday, October 16, 2020, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Where: Online event,

Title: Waves, Turbulence, Heating, and Transport in Magnetized, Weakly Collisional Astrophysical Plasmas

Abstract: The transport of energy and momentum and the heating of plasma particles by waves and turbulence are key ingredients in many problems at the frontiers of heliospheric and astrophysics research. This includes the heating and acceleration of the solar wind; the observational appearance of black-hole accretion flows on event-horizon scales; and the properties of the hot, dilute plasmas that fill dark-matter halos. All of these plasmas are magnetized and weakly collisional, with plasma beta parameters of order unity or even much larger (“high-beta”). In this regime, deviations from local thermodynamic equilibrium ("pressure anisotropy") and the kinetic instabilities they excite can dramatically change the material properties of such plasmas and thereby influence the macroscopic evolution of their host systems. This talk outlines an ongoing programme of kinetic calculations aimed at elucidating from first principles the physics of waves, turbulence, heating, and transport under these conditions. Three key results will be featured. (1) Shear-Alfvén waves “interrupt” themselves at sufficiently large amplitudes by adiabatically driving a field-biased pressure anisotropy that both nullifies the restoring tension force and excites a sea of ion-Larmor-scale instabilities. (2) Sound waves in a collisionless, high-beta plasma similarly excite Larmor-scale instabilities, which ultimately aid the waves' propagation by rendering the plasma more fluid-like and, therefore, incapable of Landau damping. (3) Pressure anisotropy generated either by turbulent fluctuations or by global expansion (as in the solar wind) qualitatively change the properties of magnetized turbulence, affecting plasma heating and the so-called “critical balance”. Contact with observations of the near-Earth solar wind and the intracluster medium of galaxy clusters will be made.