TERRAPUB Earth, Planets and Space

Earth Planets Space, Vol. 53 (No. 6), pp. 495-499, 2001

Spheromaks, solar prominences, and Alfvén instability of current sheets

P. M. Bellan, J. Yee, and J. F. Hansen

California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, U.S.A.

(Received July 26, 2000; Revised January 4, 2001; Accepted February 19, 2001)

Abstract: Three related efforts underway at Caltech are discussed: experimental studies of spheromak formation, experimental simulation of solar prominences, and Alfvén wave instability of current sheets. Spheromak formation has been studied by using a coaxial magnetized plasma gun to inject helicity-bearing plasma into a very large vacuum chamber. The spheromak is formed without a flux conserver and internal l profiles have been measured. Spheromak-based technology has been used to make laboratory plasmas having the topology and dynamics of solar prominences. The physics of these structures is closely related to spheromaks (low b, force-free, relaxed state equilibrium) but the boundary conditions and symmetry are different. Like spheromaks, the equilibrium involves a balance between hoop forces, pinch forces, and magnetic tension. It is shown theoretically that if a current sheet becomes sufficiently thin (of the order of the ion skin depth or smaller), it becomes kinetically unstable with respect to the emission of Alfvén waves and it is proposed that this wave emission is an important aspect of the dynamics of collisionless reconnection.

Corresponding author E-mail: pbellan@its.caltech.edu

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