Ion and Electron Acceleration in Fully Kinetic Plasma Turbulence

Luca Comisso, Lorenzo Sironi

Turbulence is often invoked to explain the origin of nonthermal particles in space and astrophysical plasmas. By means of 3D fully kinetic particle-in-cell simulations, we demonstrate that turbulence in low-$\beta$ plasmas ($\beta$ is the ratio of plasma pressure to magnetic pressure) accelerates ions and electrons into a nonthermal energy distribution with a power-law energy range. The ion spectrum is harder than the electron one, and both distributions get steeper for higher $\beta$. We show that the energization of electrons is accompanied by a significant energy-dependent pitch-angle anisotropy, with most electrons moving parallel to the local magnetic field, while ions stay roughly isotropic. We demonstrate that particle injection from the thermal pool occurs in regions of high current density. Parallel electric fields associated with magnetic reconnection are responsible for the initial energy gain of electrons, whereas perpendicular electric fields control the overall energization of ions. Our findings have important implications for the origin of nonthermal particles in space and astrophysical plasmas.

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