Magnetic reconnection in partially ionized plasmas

Zweibel, Ellen G.; Lawrence, Eric; Yoo, Jongsoo; Ji, Hantao; Yamada, Masaaki; Malyshkin, Leonid M.
November 2011
Physics of Plasmas;Nov2011, Vol. 18 Issue 11, p111211
Academic Journal
We review the theory of magnetic reconnection in weakly ionized gases. The theory is relevant to reconnection in the interstellar medium, protostellar and protoplanetary disks, the outer envelopes of cool stars, and a new laboratory experiment. In general, partial ionization introduces three effects beyond the obvious one: increased resistivity due to electron-neutral collisions. First, magnetic neutral sheets are steepened by plasma-neutral drift, setting up the conditions for reconnection. Second, when ion-neutral friction is strong, the effective ion mass is increased by ρ/ρi, the ratio of total to plasma mass density. This reduces the Alfven speed vA by a factor of [formula] and increases the ion skin depth δi by [formula]. As a result, entrainment of neutrals slows MHD reconnection but permits the onset of fast collisionless reconnection at a larger Lundquist number S, or for a longer current sheet, than in the fully ionized plasma case. These effects, taken together, promote fast collisionless reconnection when the ionization fraction is of order 10% to 1%, but reconnection is slowed down for much smaller ionization fractions. Finally, ion-neutral friction can be a strong heating mechanism throughout the inflow and outflow regions. These effects are under study at the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX).


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