Publications by Alexander Schekochihin


Physics of cosmic plasmas from high angular resolution X-ray imaging of galaxy clusters

ArXiv (0)

M Markevitch, E Bulbul, E Churazov, S Giacintucci, R Kraft, M Kunz, D Nagai, E Roediger, M Ruszkowski, A Schekochihin, RV Weeren, A Vikhlinin, SA Walker, QHS Wang, N Werner, D Wik, I Zhuravleva, J ZuHone

Galaxy clusters are massive dark matter-dominated systems filled with X-ray emitting, optically thin plasma. Their large size and relative simplicity (at least as astrophysical objects go) make them a unique laboratory to measure some of the interesting plasma properties that are inaccessible by other means but fundamentally important for understanding and modeling many astrophysical phenomena -- from solar flares to black hole accretion to galaxy formation and the emergence of the cosmological Large Scale Structure. While every cluster astrophysicist is eagerly anticipating the direct gas velocity measurements from the forthcoming microcalorimeters onboard XRISM, Athena and future missions such as Lynx, a number of those plasma properties can best be probed by high-resolution X-ray imaging of galaxy clusters. Chandra has obtained some trailblazing results, but only grazed the surface of such studies. In this white paper, we discuss why we need arcsecond-resolution, high collecting area, low relative background X-ray imagers (with modest spectral resolution), such as the proposed AXIS and the imaging detector of Lynx.


Thermal disequilibration of ions and electrons by collisionless plasma turbulence

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Sciences (0)

Y Kawazura, M Barnes, AA Schekochihin

Does overall thermal equilibrium exist between ions and electrons in a weakly collisional, magnetised, turbulent plasma---and, if not, how is thermal energy partitioned between ions and electrons? This is a fundamental question in plasma physics, the answer to which is also crucial for predicting the properties of far-distant astronomical objects such as accretion discs around black holes. In the context of discs, this question was posed nearly two decades ago and has since generated a sizeable literature. Here we provide the answer for the case in which energy is injected into the plasma via Alfv\'enic turbulence: collisionless turbulent heating typically acts to disequilibrate the ion and electron temperatures. Numerical simulations using a hybrid fluid-gyrokinetic model indicate that the ion-electron heating-rate ratio is an increasing function of the thermal-to-magnetic energy ratio, $\beta_\mathrm{i}$: it ranges from $\sim0.05$ at $\beta_\mathrm{i}=0.1$ to at least $30$ for $\beta_\mathrm{i} \gtrsim 10$. This energy partition is approximately insensitive to the ion-to-electron temperature ratio $T_\mathrm{i}/T_\mathrm{e}$. Thus, in the absence of other equilibrating mechanisms, a collisionless plasma system heated via Alfv\'enic turbulence will tend towards a nonequilibrium state in which one of the species is significantly hotter than the other, viz., hotter ions at high $\beta_\mathrm{i}$, hotter electrons at low $\beta_\mathrm{i}$. Spectra of electromagnetic fields and the ion distribution function in 5D phase space exhibit an interesting new magnetically dominated regime at high $\beta_i$ and a tendency for the ion heating to be mediated by nonlinear phase mixing (``entropy cascade'') when $\beta_\mathrm{i}\lesssim1$ and by linear phase mixing (Landau damping) when $\beta_\mathrm{i}\gg1$


Constraints on ion vs. electron heating by plasma turbulence at low beta

Journal of Plasma Physics Cambridge University Press (CUP) (0)

AA Schekochihin, Y Kawazura, MA Barnes

It is shown that in low-beta plasmas, such as the solar corona, some instances of the solar wind, the aurora, inner regions of accretion discs, their coronae, and some laboratory plasmas, Alfvenic fluctuations produce no ion heating within the gyrokinetic approximation, i.e., as long as their amplitudes (at the Larmor scale) are small and their frequencies stay below the ion Larmor frequency. Thus, all low-frequency ion heating in such plasmas is due to compressive fluctuations: density perturbations and non-Maxwellian perturbations of the ion distribution function. Because these fluctuations energetically decouple from the Alfvenic ones already in the inertial range, the above conclusion means that the energy partition between ions and electrons in low-beta plasmas is decided at the outer scale, where turbulence is launched, and can in principle be determined from MHD models of the relevant astrophysical systems. Any additional ion heating must come from non-gyrokinetic mechanisms such as cyclotron heating or the stochastic heating owing to distortions of ions' Larmor orbits. An exception to these conclusions occurs in the Hall limit, i.e., when the ratio of the ion to electron temperatures is as low as the ion beta (equivalently, the electron beta is order unity). In this regime, compressive fluctuations (slow waves) couple to Alfvenic ones above the Larmor scale (viz., at the ion inertial or ion sound scale), the Alfvenic and compressive cascades join and then separate again into cascades of fluctuations that linearly resemble kinetic Alfven and (oblique) ion cyclotron waves, with the former heating electrons and the latter ions. The two cascades are shown to decouple, scalings for them are derived, and it is argued physically that the two species will be heated by them at approximately equal rates.


Magneto-immutable turbulence in weakly collisional plasmas

Journal of Plasma Physics (0)

J Squire, AA Schekochihin, E Quataert, MW Kunz

We propose that pressure anisotropy causes weakly collisional turbulent plasmas to self-organize so as to resist changes in magnetic-field strength. We term this effect "magneto-immutability" by analogy with incompressibility (resistance to changes in pressure). The effect is important when the pressure anisotropy becomes comparable to the magnetic pressure, suggesting that in collisionless, weakly magnetized (high-$\beta$) plasmas its dynamical relevance is similar to that of incompressibility. Simulations of magnetized turbulence using the weakly collisional Braginskii model show that magneto-immutable turbulence is surprisingly similar, in most statistical measures, to critically balanced MHD turbulence. However, in order to minimize magnetic-field variation, the flow direction becomes more constrained than in MHD, and the turbulence is more strongly dominated by magnetic energy (a nonzero "residual energy"). These effects represent key differences between pressure-anisotropic and fluid turbulence, and should be observable in the $\beta\gtrsim1$ turbulent solar wind.


A solvable model of Vlasov-kinetic plasma turbulence in Fourier-Hermite phase space

Journal of Plasma Physics Cambridge University Press (0)

T Adkins, AA Schekochihin

A class of simple kinetic systems is considered, described by the 1D Vlasov--Landau equation with Poisson or Boltzmann electrostatic response and an energy source. Assuming a stochastic electric field, a solvable model is constructed for the phase-space turbulence of the particle distribution. The model is a kinetic analog of the Kraichnan--Batchelor model of chaotic advection. The solution of the model is found in Fourier--Hermite space and shows that the free-energy flux from low to high Hermite moments is suppressed, with phase mixing cancelled on average by anti-phase-mixing (stochastic plasma echo). This implies that Landau damping is an ineffective dissipation channel at wave numbers below a certain cut off (analog of Kolmogorov scale), which increases with the amplitude of the stochastic electric field and scales as inverse square of the collision rate. The full Fourier--Hermite spectrum is derived. Its asymptotics are $m^{-3/2}$ at low wave numbers and high Hermite moments ($m$) and $m^{-1/2}k^{-2}$ at low Hermite moments and high wave numbers ($k$). The energy distribution and flows in phase space are a simple and, therefore, useful example of competition between phase mixing and nonlinear dynamics in kinetic turbulence, reminiscent of more realistic but more complicated multi-dimensional systems that have not so far been amenable to complete analytical solution.


Astrophysical gyrokinetics: Turbulence in pressure-anisotropic plasmas at ion scales and beyond

Journal of Plasma Physics (0)

MW Kunz, IG Abel, KG Klein, AA Schekochihin

We present a theoretical framework for describing electromagnetic kinetic turbulence in a multi-species, magnetized, pressure-anisotropic plasma. Turbulent fluctuations are assumed to be small compared to the mean field, to be spatially anisotropic with respect to it, and to have frequencies small compared to the ion cyclotron frequency. At scales above the ion Larmor radius, the theory reduces to the pressure-anisotropic generalization of kinetic reduced magnetohydrodynamics (KRMHD) formulated by Kunz et al. (2015). At scales at and below the ion Larmor radius, three main objectives are achieved. First, we analyse the linear response of the pressure-anisotropic gyrokinetic system, and show it to be a generalisation of previously explored limits. The effects of pressure anisotropy on the stability and collisionless damping of Alfvenic and compressive fluctuations are highlighted, with attention paid to the spectral location and width of the frequency jump that occurs as Alfven waves transition into kinetic Alfven waves. Secondly, we derive and discuss a general free-energy conservation law, which captures both the KRMHD free-energy conservation at long wavelengths and dual cascades of kinetic Alfven waves and ion entropy at sub-ion-Larmor scales. We show that non-Maxwellian features in the distribution function change the amount of phase mixing and the efficiency of magnetic stresses, and thus influence the partitioning of free energy amongst the cascade channels. Thirdly, a simple model is used to show that pressure anisotropy can cause large variations in the ion-to-electron heating ratio due to the dissipation of Alfvenic turbulence. Our theory provides a foundation for determining how pressure anisotropy affects the turbulent fluctuation spectra, the differential heating of particle species, and the ratio of parallel and perpendicular phase mixing in space and astrophysical plasmas.


Plasmoid and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities in Sweet-Parker current sheets

ArXiv (0)

NF Loureiro, AA Schekochihin, DA Uzdensky

A 2D linear theory of the instability of Sweet-Parker (SP) current sheets is developed in the framework of Reduced MHD. A local analysis is performed taking into account the dependence of a generic equilibrium profile on the outflow coordinate. The plasmoid instability [Loureiro et al, Phys. Plasmas {\bf 14}, 100703 (2007)] is recovered, i.e., current sheets are unstable to the formation of a large-wave-number chain of plasmoids ($k_{\rm max}\Lsheet \sim S^{3/8}$, where $k_{\rm max}$ is the wave-number of fastest growing mode, $S=\Lsheet V_A/\eta$ is the Lundquist number, $\Lsheet$ is the length of the sheet, $V_A$ is the Alfv\'en speed and $\eta$ is the plasma resistivity), which grows super-Alfv\'enically fast ($\gmax\tau_A\sim S^{1/4}$, where $\gmax$ is the maximum growth rate, and $\tau_A=\Lsheet/V_A$). For typical background profiles, the growth rate and the wave-number are found to {\it increase} in the outflow direction. This is due to the presence of another mode, the Kelvin-Helmholtz (KH) instability, which is triggered at the periphery of the layer, where the outflow velocity exceeds the Alfv\'en speed associated with the upstream magnetic field. The KH instability grows even faster than the plasmoid instability, $\gmax \tau_A \sim k_{\rm max} \Lsheet\sim S^{1/2}$. The effect of viscosity ($\nu$) on the plasmoid instability is also addressed. In the limit of large magnetic Prandtl numbers, $Pm=\nu/\eta$, it is found that $\gmax\sim S^{1/4}Pm^{-5/8}$ and $k_{\rm max} \Lsheet\sim S^{3/8}Pm^{-3/16}$, leading to the prediction that the critical Lundquist number for plasmoid instability in the $Pm\gg1$ regime is $\Scrit\sim 10^4Pm^{1/2}$. These results are verified via direct numerical simulation of the linearized equations, using a new, analytical 2D SP equilibrium solution.


Multiscale Gyrokinetics for Rotating Tokamak Plasmas: Fluctuations, Transport and Energy Flows

ArXiv (0)

IG Abel, GG Plunk, E Wang, M Barnes, SC Cowley, W Dorland, AA Schekochihin

This paper presents a complete theoretical framework for plasma turbulence and transport in tokamak plasmas. The fundamental scale separations present in plasma turbulence are codified as an asymptotic expansion in the ratio of the gyroradius to the equilibrium scale length. Proceeding order-by-order in this expansion, a framework for plasma turbulence is developed. It comprises an instantaneous equilibrium, the fluctuations driven by gradients in the equilibrium quantities, and the transport-timescale evolution of mean profiles of these quantities driven by the fluctuations. The equilibrium distribution functions are local Maxwellians with each flux surface rotating toroidally as a rigid body. The magnetic equillibrium is obtained from the Grad-Shafranov equation for a rotating plasma and the slow (resistive) evolution of the magnetic field is given by an evolution equation for the safety factor q. Large-scale deviations of the distribution function from a Maxwellian are given by neoclassical theory. The fluctuations are determined by the high-flow gyrokinetic equation, from which we derive the governing principle for gyrokinetic turbulence in tokamaks: the conservation and local cascade of free energy. Transport equations for the evolution of the mean density, temperature and flow velocity profiles are derived. These transport equations show how the neoclassical corrections and the fluctuations act back upon the mean profiles through fluxes and heating. The energy and entropy conservation laws for the mean profiles are derived. Total energy is conserved and there is no net turbulent heating. Entropy is produced by the action of fluxes flattening gradients, Ohmic heating, and the equilibration of mean temperatures. Finally, this framework is condensed, in the low-Mach-number limit, to a concise set of equations suitable for numerical implementation.


Alignment and scaling of large-scale fluctuations in the solar wind

ArXiv (0)

RT Wicks, A Mallet, TS Horbury, CHK Chen, AA Schekochihin, JJ Mitchell

We investigate the dependence of solar wind fluctuations measured by the Wind spacecraft on scale and on the degree of alignment between oppositely directed Elsasser fields. This alignment controls the strength of the non-linear interactions and, therefore, the turbulence. We find that at scales larger than the outer scale of the turbulence the Elsasser fluctuations become on average more anti-aligned as the outer scale is approached from above. Conditioning structure functions using the alignment angle reveals turbulent scaling of unaligned fluctuations at scales previously believed to lie outside the turbulent cascade in the `1/f range'. We argue that the 1/f range contains a mixture of non-interacting anti-aligned population of Alfv\'{e}n waves and magnetic force-free structures plus a subdominant population of unaligned cascading turbulent fluctuations.


Measurement and physical interpretation of the mean motion of turbulent density patterns detected by the BES system on MAST

ArXiv (0)

Y-C Ghim, AR Field, D Dunai, S Zoletnik, L Bardoczi, AA Schekochihin, TMAST Team

The mean motion of turbulent patterns detected by a two-dimensional (2D) beam emission spectroscopy (BES) diagnostic on the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) is determined using a cross-correlation time delay (CCTD) method. Statistical reliability of the method is studied by means of synthetic data analysis. The experimental measurements on MAST indicate that the apparent mean poloidal motion of the turbulent density patterns in the lab frame arises because the longest correlation direction of the patterns (parallel to the local background magnetic fields) is not parallel to the direction of the fastest mean plasma flows (usually toroidal when strong neutral beam injection is present). The experimental measurements are consistent with the mean motion of plasma being toroidal. The sum of all other contributions (mean poloidal plasma flow, phase velocity of the density patterns in the plasma frame, non-linear effects, etc.) to the apparent mean poloidal velocity of the density patterns is found to be negligible. These results hold in all investigated L-mode, H-mode and internal transport barrier (ITB) discharges. The one exception is a high-poloidal-beta (the ratio of the plasma pressure to the poloidal magnetic field energy density) discharge, where a large magnetic island exists. In this case BES detects very little motion. This effect is currently theoretically unexplained.


Interpreting Power Anisotropy Measurements in Plasma Turbulence

ArXiv (0)

CHK Chen, RT Wicks, TS Horbury, AA Schekochihin

A relationship is derived between power anisotropy and wavevector anisotropy in turbulent fluctuations. This can be used to interpret plasma turbulence measurements, for example in the solar wind. If fluctuations are anisotropic in shape then the ion gyroscale break point in spectra in the directions parallel and perpendicular to the magnetic field would not occur at the same frequency, and similarly for the electron gyroscale break point. This is an important consideration when interpreting solar wind observations in terms of anisotropic turbulence theories. Model magnetic field power spectra are presented assuming a cascade of critically balanced Alfven waves in the inertial range and kinetic Alfven waves in the dissipation range. The variation of power anisotropy with scale is compared to existing solar wind measurements and the similarities and differences are discussed.


Turbulence and Magnetic Fields in Astrophysical Plasmas

ArXiv (0)

AA Schekochihin, SC Cowley

We discuss the current understanding of the most basic properties of astrophysical MHD turbulence and trace the origins of the modern views and theoretical uncertainties to the ideas set forth in 1950s and 1960s by Iroshnikov, Kraichnan, Batchelor, Schlueter and Biermann. Universal aspects of the theory are emphasised. Two main astrophysical applications are touched upon: turbulence in the solar wind and in clusters of galaxies. These are, in a certain (very approximate) sense, two ``pure'' cases of small-scale turbulence, where theoretical models of the two main regimes of MHD turbulence -- with and without a strong mean magnetic field -- can be put to the test. They are also good examples of a complication that is more or less generic in astrophysical plasmas: the MHD description is, in fact, insufficient for astrophysical turbulence and plasma physics must make an entrance.


Diffusion of passive scalar in a finite-scale random flow

ArXiv (0)

AA Schekochihin, PH Haynes, SC Cowley

We consider a solvable model of the decay of scalar variance in a single-scale random velocity field. We show that if there is a separation between the flow scale k_flow^{-1} and the box size k_box^{-1}, the decay rate lambda ~ (k_box/k_flow)^2 is determined by the turbulent diffusion of the box-scale mode. Exponential decay at the rate lambda is preceded by a transient powerlike decay (the total scalar variance ~ t^{-5/2} if the Corrsin invariant is zero, t^{-3/2} otherwise) that lasts a time t~1/\lambda. Spectra are sharply peaked at k=k_box. The box-scale peak acts as a slowly decaying source to a secondary peak at the flow scale. The variance spectrum at scales intermediate between the two peaks (k_box<<k<<k_flow) is ~ k + a k^2 + ... (a>0). The mixing of the flow-scale modes by the random flow produces, for the case of large Peclet number, a k^{-1+delta} spectrum at k>>k_flow, where delta ~ lambda is a small correction. Our solution thus elucidates the spectral make up of the ``strange mode,'' combining small-scale structure and a decay law set by the largest scales.


[Plasma 2020 Decadal] Multipoint Measurements of the Solar Wind: A Proposed Advance for Studying Magnetized Turbulence

ArXiv (0)

KG Klein, O Alexandrova, J Bookbinder, D Caprioli, AW Case, BDG Chandran, LJ Chen, T Horbury, L Jian, JC Kasper, OL Contel, BA Maruca, W Matthaeus, A Retino, O Roberts, A Schekochihin, R Skoug, C Smith, J Steinberg, H Spence, B Vasquez, JM TenBarge, D Verscharen, P Whittlesey

A multi-institutional, multi-national science team will soon submit a NASA proposal to build a constellation of spacecraft to fly into the near-Earth solar wind in a swarm spanning a multitude of scales in order to obtain critically needed measurements that will reveal the underlying dynamics of magnetized turbulence. This white paper, submitted to the Plasma 2020 Decadal Survey Committee, provides a brief overview of turbulent systems that constitute an area of compelling plasma physics research, including why this mission is needed, and how this mission will achieve the goal of revealing how energy is transferred across scales and boundaries in plasmas throughout the universe.


Stochastic transport of high-energy particles through a turbulent plasma

ArXiv (0)

LE Chen, AFA Bott, P Tzeferacos, A Rigby, A Bell, R Bingham, C Graziani, J Katz, M Koenig, CK Li, R Petrasso, H-S Park, JS Ross, D Ryu, D Ryutov, TG White, B Reville, J Matthews, J Meinecke, F Miniati, EG Zweibel, S Sarkar, AA Schekochihin, DQ Lamb, DH Froula, G Gregori

The interplay between charged particles and turbulent magnetic fields is crucial to understanding how cosmic rays propagate through space. A key parameter which controls this interplay is the ratio of the particle gyroradius to the correlation length of the magnetic turbulence. For the vast majority of cosmic rays detected at the Earth, this parameter is small, and the particles are well confined by the Galactic magnetic field. But for cosmic rays more energetic than about 30 EeV, this parameter is large. These highest energy particles are not confined to the Milky Way and are presumed to be extragalactic in origin. Identifying their sources requires understanding how they are deflected by the intergalactic magnetic field, which appears to be weak, turbulent with an unknown correlation length, and possibly spatially intermittent. This is particularly relevant given the recent detection by the Pierre Auger Observatory of a significant dipole anisotropy in the arrival directions of cosmic rays of energy above 8 EeV. Here we report measurements of energetic-particle propagation through a random magnetic field in a laser-produced plasma. We characterize the diffusive transport of these particles and recover experimentally pitch-angle scattering measurements and extrapolate to find their mean free path and the associated diffusion coefficient, which show scaling-relations consistent with theoretical studies. This experiment validates these theoretical tools for analyzing the propagation of ultra-high energy cosmic rays through the intergalactic medium.


[Plasma 2020 Decadal] The Material Properties of Weakly Collisional, High-Beta Plasmas

ArXiv (0)

MW Kunz, J Squire, SA Balbus, SD Bale, CHK Chen, E Churazov, SC Cowley, CB Forest, CF Gammie, E Quataert, CS Reynolds, AA Schekochihin, L Sironi, A Spitkovsky, JM Stone, I Zhuravleva, EG Zweibel

This white paper, submitted for the Plasma 2020 Decadal Survey, concerns the physics of weakly collisional, high-beta plasmas -- plasmas in which the thermal pressure dominates over the magnetic pressure and in which the inter-particle collision time is comparable to the characteristic timescales of bulk motions. This state of matter, although widespread in the Universe, remains poorly understood: we lack a predictive theory for how it responds to perturbations, how it transports momentum and energy, and how it generates and amplifies magnetic fields. Such topics are foundational to the scientific study of plasmas, and are of intrinsic interest to those who regard plasma physics as a fundamental physics discipline. But these topics are also of extrinsic interest: addressing them directly informs upon our understanding of a wide variety of space and astrophysical systems, including accretion flows around supermassive black holes, the intracluster medium (ICM) between galaxies in clusters, and regions of the near-Earth solar wind. Specific recommendations to advance this field of study are discussed.

Pages