Hybrid-Kinetic Modelling of Space Plasma with Application to Mercury

  • Author / Creator
    Paral, Jan
  • A planet's magnetosphere is often very dynamic, undergoing large topological changes in response to high speed (~400 km/s) solar wind intervals, coronal mass ejections, and naturally excited plasma wave modes. Plasma waves are very effective at transporting energy throughout the magnetosphere, and are therefore of interest in the context of the coupling between solar wind and magnetosphere. Of relevance to this thesis is Kelvin-Helmholtz macro-instability. Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) is excited by shear of the flows. KHI is commonly observed at equatorial regions of the magnetopause where fast flowing magnetosheath plasma may interact with slow bulk velocities of magnetospheric plasma. The instability is responsible for exciting shear Alfv'en waves which (at Earth) may be detected using the ground based magnetometers located at latitude of excited field lines. This thesis uses numerical modelling to understand and to explain the generation and propagation of the KHI in Mercury's magnetosphere. The instability is initiated close to the planet and convectively grows while being transported along the tail. When the wave amplitude reaches a nonlinear stage, the structure of the wave becomes complex due to the wrapping of the plasma into the vortex. A vortex structure is typical for KHI and it is used for identifying the wave in the data from satellites. The instability commonly occurs at the dawn or dusk flank magnetopause (MP) of Earth with approximately the same probability. But the data from NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft, currently in the orbit of the planet Mercury, suggest a strong asymmetry in the observations of KHI. It is shown that the KHI initiated near the subsolar point evolves into large-scale vortices propagating anti-sunward along the dusk-side MP. The simulations are in agreement with the third flyby of the MESSENGER spacecraft, where saw-tooth oscillations in the plasma density, flow, and magnetic field were observed. The observed asymmetry in the KHI between dawn and dusk is found to be controlled by the finite gyro-radius of ions, and by MP pressure gradients and the large-scale solar wind convection electric field.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2013
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Heimpel, Moritz (Department of Physics)
    • Bowman, John C. (Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences)
    • De Sterck, Hans (Department of Applied Mathematics)
    • Sydora, Richard (Department of Physics)