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In situ evidence for the structure of the magnetic null in a 3D reconnection event in the Earth's magnetotail

Nature Physics volume 2, pages 478483 (2006) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important processes in astrophysical, space and laboratory plasmas. Identifying the structure around the point at which the magnetic field lines break and subsequently reform, known as the magnetic null point, is crucial to improving our understanding of reconnection. But owing to the inherently three-dimensional nature of this process, magnetic nulls are only detectable through measurements obtained simultaneously from at least four points in space. Using data collected by the four spacecraft of the Cluster constellation as they traversed a diffusion region in the Earth's magnetotail on 15 September 2001, we report here the first in situ evidence for the structure of an isolated magnetic null. The results indicate that it has a positive-spiral structure whose spatial extent is of the same order as the local ion inertial length scale, suggesting that the Hall effect could play an important role in 3D reconnection dynamics.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by the NSFC Programs (Grant Nos 40390150, 4050421, 10233050, 10575018, 40536030, 40425004, and 40228006) and the China Key Research Project (Grant No. G200000784), as well as the China Double Star-Cluster Science Team. The authors also thank D. S. Cai, E. R. Priest, and G. P. Zhou for helpful discussions and suggestions, as well as H. Schwarzl for producing the intercalibrated FGM data.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100012, China

    • C. J. Xiao
    • , H. Zhao
    •  & J. X. Wang
  2. State Key Lab of Materials Modification by Laser, Ion, and Electron Beams, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian 116024, China

    • X. G. Wang
  3. School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Z. Y. Pu
    •  & S. Y. Fu
  4. Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hefei 230031, China

    • Z. W. Ma
  5. Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA

    • M. G. Kivelson
  6. CSSAR, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100080, China

    • Z. X. Liu
  7. Center for Atmospheric Research, University of Massachusetts Lowell, MA 01854-3629, USA

    • Q. G. Zong
  8. IGEP, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany

    • K. H. Glassmeier
  9. Department of Physics, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, UK

    • A. Balogh
  10. MPI for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

    • A. Korth
  11. Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, BP 4346, 31028 Toulouse Cedex 4, France

    • H. Reme
  12. ESA/ESTEC, Postbus 299, 2200 AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands

    • C. P. Escoubet

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Z. Y. Pu.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys342

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