Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability at Earth
As the solar wind flows past the earth, surface waves form on the boundaries of the magnetosphere. These waves grow and roll up like ocean waves. Because the plasma in the waves is coupled with the earth’s magnetic field, they can transport mass, energy and momentum from the solar wind to earth’s magnetosphere. We refer to this as the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability at earth.
With the launch of the NASA MMS mission, we have the opportunity to study the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in great detail. Our group works on addressing three major science questions:
- What is the role of magnetic reconnection in governing the dynamics of the Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability?
- What is the role of plasma turbulence in governing the dynamics of the Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability?
- What is the role of electromagnetic and electrostatic waves in governing the dynamics of the Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability?
By addressing these questions, we hope to resolve a major problem in magnetospheric physics – how surface waves on the magnetospheric flanks can drive activity in the magnetosphere.