Reconnection in the Interstellar Medium Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • We discuss the role of ambipolar diffusion for simple reconnection in a partially ionized gas, following the reconnection geometry of Parker and Sweet. When the recombination time is short the mobility and reconnection of the magnetic field is substantially enhanced as matter escapes from the reconnection region via ambipolar diffusion. Our analysis shows that in the interstellar medium it is the recombination rate that usually limits the rate of reconnection. We show that heating effects can reduce this rate by increasing the recombination time and raising the local ion pressure. In the colder parts of the ISM, when temperatures are or the order of 100K or less, we obtain a significant enhancement over the usual Sweet-Parker rate, but only in dense molecular clouds will the reconnection velocity exceed 0.001 times the Alfv\'en speed. The ratio of the ion orbital radius to the reconnection layer thickness is typically a few percent, except in dense molecular clouds where it can approach unity. We briefly discuss prospects for obtaining much faster reconnection speeds in astrophysical plasmas.

publication date

  • January 20, 1999