Ion dynamics and distribution at the quasiperpendicular collisionless shock front Academic Article uri icon


  • Collisionless shocks are well-known to be very efficient energizers of ions. At the first step of energization relatively low energy suprathermal ion distributions are formed in the vicinity of the quasiperpendicular collisionless shock front during ion reflection and direct transmission. These distributions are formed promptly and at the scale of the shock width mainly due to the ion interaction with the quasistationary electromagnetic structure of the front itself. Their features are intimately related to the fine structure of the shock front in the sense that they depend not only on the bulk shock parameters, such as Mach number, but also on the details of the distribution of the fields, in particular, shock width. Therefore, studies of these distributions may provide valuable information about the shock structure itself. We review the observational data collected during in situ measurements (mainly at the Earth bow shock) and compare it to the numerical simulations and theoretical developments. The developed theory of the ion dynamics in the stationary shock front relates the ion reflection and heating to the insufficient deceleration of the ions in the ramp by the cross-shock potential, as compared to the expected downstream drift velocity, required by the Rankine-Hugoniot relations. As a result, the direct flow energy it transferred into the gyration energy, leading to the gyration of the ion distribution as a whole and enhanced spread in the velocity space, that is, effective collisionless heating. Anisotropy and nongyrotropy are typical features of ion distributions at both low and high-Mach number shocks, which is confirmed by observations. Time-dependent fields, which are not considered in the stationary shock model, are thought to provide subsequent smoothing and isotropization of the ion distributions. These processes occur at scales substantially larger than the shock width.

publication date

  • January 1, 1997