Turbulence in collisionless plasmas: statistical analysis from numerical simulations with pressure anisotropy

G. Kowal*, D. A. Falceta-Goncalves, A. Lazarian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, we have experienced increasing interest in the understanding of the physical properties of collisionless plasmas, mostly because of the large number of astrophysical environments (e. g. the intracluster medium (ICM)) containing magnetic fields that are strong enough to be coupled with the ionized gas and characterized by densities sufficiently low to prevent the pressure isotropization with respect to the magnetic line direction. Under these conditions, a new class of kinetic instabilities arises, such as firehose and mirror instabilities, which have been studied extensively in the literature. Their role in the turbulence evolution and cascade process in the presence of pressure anisotropy, however, is still unclear. In this work, we present the first statistical analysis of turbulence in collisionless plasmas using three-dimensional numerical simulations and solving double-isothermal magnetohydrodynamic equations with the Chew-Goldberger-Low laws closure (CGL-MHD). We study models with different initial conditions to account for the firehose and mirror instabilities and to obtain different turbulent regimes. We found that the CGL-MHD subsonic and supersonic turbulences show small differences compared to the MHD models in most cases. However, in the regimes of strong kinetic instabilities, the statistics, i.e. the probability distribution functions (PDFs) of density and velocity, are very different. In subsonic models, the instabilities cause an increase in the dispersion of density, while the dispersion of velocity is increased by a large factor in some cases. Moreover, the spectra of density and velocity show increased power at small scales explained by the high growth rate of the instabilities. Finally, we calculated the structure functions of velocity and density fluctuations in the local reference frame defined by the direction of magnetic lines. The results indicate that in some cases the instabilities significantly increase the anisotropy of fluctuations. These results, even though preliminary and restricted to very specific conditions, show that the physical properties of turbulence in collisionless plasmas, as those found in the ICM, may be very different from what has been largely believed. Implications can range from interchange of energies to cosmic ray acceleration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number053001
Number of pages23
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2011


  • Linear theory
  • Instabilities
  • Clusters
  • Waves
  • Collisionless plasmas
  • Pressure anisotropy


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