Volume 558, October 2013
|Number of page(s)||24|
|Section||Numerical methods and codes|
|Published online||18 October 2013|
Apar-T: code, validation, and physical interpretation of particle-in-cell results
1 École Normale Supérieure, CRAL, UMR CNRS 5574, Université de Lyon, Lyon, France
2 CSCS Lugano, Switzerland
3 NVIDIA Switzerland, Technoparkstr 1, 8005 Zürich, Switzerland
Received: 23 March 2013
Accepted: 25 July 2013
We present the parallel particle-in-cell (PIC) code Apar-T and, more importantly, address the fundamental question of the relations between the PIC model, the Vlasov-Maxwell theory, and real plasmas. First, we present four validation tests: spectra from simulations of thermal plasmas, linear growth rates of the relativistic tearing instability and of the filamentation instability, and nonlinear filamentation merging phase. For the filamentation instability we show that the effective growth rates measured on the total energy can differ by more than 50% from the linear cold predictions and from the fastest modes of the simulation. We link these discrepancies to the superparticle number per cell and to the level of field fluctuations. Second, we detail a new method for initial loading of Maxwell-Jüttner particle distributions with relativistic bulk velocity and relativistic temperature, and explain why the traditional method with individual particle boosting fails. The formulation of the relativistic Harris equilibrium is generalized to arbitrary temperature and mass ratios. Both are required for the tearing instability setup. Third, we turn to the key point of this paper and scrutinize the question of what description of (weakly coupled) physical plasmas is obtained by PIC models. These models rely on two building blocks: coarse-graining, i.e., grouping of the order of p ~ 1010 real particles into a single computer superparticle, and field storage on a grid with its subsequent finite superparticle size. We introduce the notion of coarse-graining dependent quantities, i.e., quantities depending on p. They derive from the PIC plasma parameter ΛPIC, which we show to behave as ΛPIC ∝ 1/p. We explore two important implications. One is that PIC collision- and fluctuation-induced thermalization times are expected to scale with the number of superparticles per grid cell, and thus to be a factor p ~ 1010 smaller than in real plasmas, a fact that we confirm with simulations. The other is that the level of electric field fluctuations scales as 1/ΛPIC ∝ p. We provide a corresponding exact expression, taking into account the finite superparticle size. We confirm both expectations with simulations. Fourth, we compare the Vlasov-Maxwell theory, often used for code benchmarking, to the PIC model. The former describes a phase-space fluid with Λ = + ∞ and no correlations, while the PIC plasma features a small Λ and a high level of correlations when compared to a real plasma. These differences have to be kept in mind when interpreting and validating PIC results against the Vlasov-Maxwell theory and when modeling real physical plasmas.
Key words: plasmas / methods: numerical / relativistic processes / instabilities / magnetic reconnection
© ESO, 2013
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