Research Article

Electron-scale measurements of magnetic reconnection in space

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Science  12 May 2016:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2939

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Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental physical process in plasmas whereby stored magnetic energy is converted into heat and kinetic energy of charged particles. Reconnection occurs in many astrophysical plasma environments and in laboratory plasmas. Using very high time resolution measurements, NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) has found direct evidence for electron demagnetization and acceleration at sites along the sunward boundary of Earth’s magnetosphere where the interplanetary magnetic field reconnects with the terrestrial magnetic field. We have (i) observed the conversion of magnetic energy to particle energy, (ii) measured the electric field and current, which together cause the dissipation of magnetic energy, and (iii) identified the electron population that carries the current as a result of demagnetization and acceleration within the reconnection diffusion/dissipation region.

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