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Electron-scale dynamics of the diffusion region during symmetric magnetic reconnection in space

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Science  15 Nov 2018:
eaat2998
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat2998

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Abstract

Magnetic reconnection is an energy conversion process which occurs in many astrophysical contexts including the Earth’s magnetosphere, where the process can be investigated in-situ by spacecraft. We present the encounter of a reconnection site in Earth’s magnetotail by the Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft, where reconnection involves symmetric inflow conditions. The electron-scale plasma measurements revealed i) super-Alfvénic electron jets reaching 15,000 km/s, ii) electron meandering motion and acceleration by the electric field, producing multiple crescent-shaped structures in the velocity distributions, iii) the spatial dimensions of the electron diffusion region with an aspect ratio of 0.1-0.2, consistent with fast reconnection. The well-structured multiple layers of electron populations indicate that, despite the presence of turbulence near the reconnection site, the dominant electron dynamics are mostly laminar.

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