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Volume 481, Number 3, April III 2008
Page(s) 853 - 860
Section The Sun
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20079221
Published online 14 February 2008

A&A 481, 853-860 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20079221

Drift instabilities in the solar corona within the multi-fluid description

R. Mecheri and E. Marsch

Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Max-Planck-Strasse 2, 37191 Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
    e-mail: mecheri@mps.mpg.de

(Received 9 December 2007 / Accepted 4 February 2008)

Context. Recent observations have revealed that the solar atmosphere is highly structured in density, temperature, and magnetic field. The presence of these gradients may lead to the appearance of currents in the plasma, which in the weakly collisional corona can constitute sources of free energy for driving micro-instabilities. Such instabilities are very important since they represent a possible source of ion-cyclotron waves that have been conjectured as playing a prominent role in coronal heating, but whose solar origin remains unclear.
Aims. Considering a density stratification transverse to the magnetic field, this paper aims at studying the possible occurrence of gradient-induced plasma micro-instabilities under the conditions typical of coronal holes.
Methods. Taking the WKB (Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin) approximation into account, we performed the Fourier plane wave analysis using the collisionless multi-fluid model. By neglecting the electron inertia, this model allowed us to take into account ion-cyclotron wave effects that are absent from the one-fluid model of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). Realistic models of density and temperature, as well as a 2D analytical magnetic-field model, have been used to define the background plasma in the open-field funnel in a polar coronal hole. The ray-tracing theory has been used to compute the ray path of the unstable waves, as well as the evolution of their growth rates during the propagation.
Results. We demonstrate that in typical coronal hole conditions, and when assuming typical transverse density length scales taken from radio observations, the current generated by a relative electron-ion drift provides enough free energy for driving the mode unstable. This instability results from coupling between slow-mode waves propagating in opposite directions. However, the ray-tracing computation shows that the unstable waves propagate upward to only a short distance but then are reflected backward. The corresponding growth rate increases and decreases intermittently in the upward propagating phase, and the instability ceases while the wave is propagating downward.
Conclusions. Drift currents caused by fine structures in the density distribution in the magnetically-open coronal funnels can provide enough energy to drive plasma micro-instabilities, which constitute a possible source of the ion-cyclotron waves that have been invoked for coronal heating.

Key words: Sun: corona -- waves -- instabilities

© ESO 2008