DOI: 10.1029/2023ja032234 ISSN: 2169-9380

Density and Magnetic Field Asymmetric Kelvin‐Helmholtz Instability

Xuanye Ma, Peter Delamere, Katariina Nykyri, Antonius Otto, Stefan Eriksson, Lihui Chai, Brandon Burkholder, Andrew Dimmock, Yu‐Lun Liou, Shiva Kavosi
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


The Kelvin‐Helmholtz (KH) instability can transport mass, momentum, magnetic flux, and energy between the magnetosheath and magnetosphere, which plays an important role in the solar‐wind‐magnetosphere coupling process for different planets. Meanwhile, strong density and magnetic field asymmetry are often present between the magnetosheath (MSH) and magnetosphere (MSP), which could affect the transport processes driven by the KH instability. Our magnetohydrodynamics simulation shows that the KH growth rate is insensitive to the density ratio between the MSP and the MSH in the compressible regime, which is different than the prediction from linear incompressible theory. When the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is parallel to the planet's magnetic field, the nonlinear KH instability can drive a double mid‐latitude reconnection (DMLR) process. The total double reconnected flux depends on the KH wavelength and the strength of the lower magnetic field. When the IMF is anti‐parallel to the planet's magnetic field, the nonlinear interaction between magnetic reconnection and the KH instability leads to fast reconnection (i.e., close to Petschek reconnection even without including kinetic physics). However, the peak value of the reconnection rate still follows the asymmetric reconnection scaling laws. We also demonstrate that the DMLR process driven by the KH instability mixes the plasma from different regions and consequently generates different types of velocity distribution functions. We show that the counter‐streaming beams can be simply generated via the change of the flux tube connection and do not require parallel electric fields.

More from our Archive