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Heating and Acceleration of Charged Particles by Weakly Compressible Magnetohydrodynamic Turbulence

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eScholarship - University of California
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We investigate the interaction between low-frequency magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence and a distribution of charged particles. Understanding this physics is central to understanding the heating of the solar wind, as well as the heating and acceleration of other collisionless plasmas.Our central method is to simulate weakly compressible MHD turbulence using the <italic>Athena</italic> code, along with a distribution of test particles which feel the electromagnetic fields of the turbulence. We also construct analytic models of transit-time damping (TTD), which results from the mirror force caused by compressible (fast or slow) MHD waves. Standard linear-theory models in the literature require an exact resonance between particle and wave velocities to accelerate particles. The models developed in this thesis go beyond standard linear theory to account for the fact that wave-particle interactions decorrelate over a short time, which allows particles with velocities off resonance to undergo acceleration and velocity diffusion. We use the test particle simulation results to calibrate and distinguish between different models for this velocity diffusion. Test particle heating is larger than the linear theory prediction, due to continued acceleration of particles with velocities off-resonance.We also include an artificial pitch-angle scattering to the test particle motion, representing the effect of high-frequency waves or velocity-space instabilities. For low scattering rates, we find that the scattering enforces isotropy and enhances heating by a modest factor. For much higher scattering rates, the acceleration is instead due to a non-resonant effect, as particles &ldquo;frozen&rdquo; into the fluid adiabatically gain and lose energy as eddies expand and contract. Lastly, we generalize our calculations to allow for relativistic test particles. Linear theory predicts that relativistic particles with velocities much higher than the speed of waves comprising the turbulence would undergo no acceleration; resonance-broadening modifies this conclusion and allows for a continued Fermi-like acceleration process. This may affect the observed spectra of black hole accretion disks by accelerating relativistic particles into a quasi-powerlaw tail.


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