Electron-Scale Reconnecting Current Sheet Formed Within the Lower-Hybrid Wave-Active Region of Kelvin-Helmholtz Waves

K. A. Blasl*, T. K.M. Nakamura, R. Nakamura, A. Settino, H. Hasegawa, Z. Vörös, M. Hosner, D. Schmid, M. Volwerk, Owen W. Roberts, E. Panov, Yi Hsin Liu, F. Plaschke, J. E. Stawarz, J. C. Holmes

*Corresponding author for this work

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We present Magnetospheric Multiscale observations of an electron-scale reconnecting current sheet in the mixing region along the trailing edge of a Kelvin-Helmholtz vortex during southward interplanetary magnetic field conditions. Within this region, we observe intense electrostatic wave activity, consistent with lower-hybrid waves. These waves lead to the transport of high-density magnetosheath plasma across the boundary layer into the magnetosphere and generate a mixing region with highly compressed magnetic field lines, leading to the formation of a thin current sheet associated with electron-scale reconnection signatures. Consistencies between these reconnection signatures and a realistic, local, fully-kinetic simulation modeling this current sheet indicate a temporal evolution of the observed electron-scale reconnection current sheet. The multi-scale and inter-process character of this event can help us understand plasma mixing connected to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability and the temporal evolution of electron-scale reconnection.

Key Points
A reconnecting electron-scale current sheet is observed by Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) in mixing plasma along the trailing edge of a Kelvin-Helmholtz vortex
Realistic 2.5D fully-kinetic simulation shows reasonable agreement with MMS data
Consistencies between the simulation and MMS indicate a temporal evolution of the reconnecting current sheet

Plain Language Summary
Like wind blowing over water, the stream of ionized gas released from the Sun, called the solar wind, can lead to waves and rolled-up vortex structures at the boundary of Earth's magnetosphere, called the magnetopause. These so-called Kelvin-Helmholtz waves have been shown to be connected to various different plasma processes on different scales. This multi-scale and multi-process character makes them an ideal candidate to study the relation between these processes from both spacecraft observations and simulations. By using spacecraft data from the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which was designed for the study of small-scale plasma processes in Earth's magnetosphere, we show observations of electron-scale magnetic reconnection, an explosive energy conversion process in plasmas, in a region along the trailing edge of these waves. These observations shed new light on the multi-scale and multi-process character of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability and the energy conversion processes along its boundary.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023GL104309
Number of pages10
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number19
Early online date09 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • electron-scale
  • Kelvin-Helmholtz
  • lower-hybrid drift instability
  • multi-scale
  • plasma mixing
  • reconnection


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