Volume 633, January 2020
|Number of page(s)||7|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||15 January 2020|
Magnetohydrodynamic simulations of a Uranus-at-equinox type rotating magnetosphere
Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP), CNRS, CNES, Université de Toulouse, UPS,
2 LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, Université PSL, CNRS, Sorbonne Université, Université de Paris, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
Accepted: 18 November 2019
Context. As proven by measurements at Uranus and Neptune, the magnetic dipole axis and planetary spin axis can be off by a large angle exceeding 45°. The magnetosphere of such an (exo-)planet is highly variable over a one-day period and it does potentially exhibit a complex magnetic tail structure. The dynamics and shape of rotating magnetospheres do obviously depend on the planet’s characteristics but also, and very substantially, on the orientation of the planetary spin axis with respect to the impinging, generally highly supersonic, stellar wind.
Aims. On its orbit around the Sun, the orientation of Uranus’ spin axis with respect to the solar wind changes from quasi-perpendicular (solstice) to quasi-parallel (equinox). In this paper, we simulate the magnetosphere of a fictitious Uranus-like planet plunged in a supersonic plasma (the stellar wind) at equinox. A simulation with zero wind velocity is also presented in order to help disentangle the effects of the rotation from the effects of the supersonic wind in the structuring of the planetary magnetic tail.
Methods. The ideal magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) equations in conservative form are integrated on a structured spherical grid using the Message-Passing Interface-Adaptive Mesh Refinement Versatile Advection Code (MPI-AMRVAC). In order to limit diffusivity at grid level, we used background and residual decomposition of the magnetic field. The magnetic field is thus made of the sum of a prescribed time-dependent background field B0(t) and a residual field B1(t) computed by the code. In our simulations, B0(t) is essentially made of a rigidly rotating potential dipole field.
Results. The first simulation shows that, while plunged in a non-magnetised plasma, a magnetic dipole rotating about an axis oriented at 90° with respect to itself does naturally accelerate the plasma away from the dipole around the rotation axis. The acceleration occurs over a spatial scale of the order of the Alfvénic co-rotation scale r*. During the acceleration, the dipole lines become stretched and twisted. The observed asymptotic fluid velocities are of the order of the phase speed of the fast MHD mode. In two simulations where the surrounding non-magnetised plasma was chosen to move at supersonic speed perpendicularly to the rotation axis (a situation that is reminiscent of Uranus in the solar wind at equinox), the lines of each hemisphere are symmetrically twisted and stretched as before. However, they are also bent by the supersonic flow, thus forming a magnetic tail of interlaced field lines of opposite polarity. Similarly to the case with no wind, the interlaced field lines and the attached plasma are accelerated by the rotation and also by the transfer of kinetic energy flux from the surrounding supersonic flow. The tailwards fluid velocity increases asymptotically towards the externally imposed flow velocity, or wind. In one more simulation, a transverse magnetic field, to both the spin axis and flow direction, was added to the impinging flow so that magnetic reconnection could occur between the dipole anchored field lines and the impinging field lines. No major difference with respect to the no-magnetised flow case is observed, except that the tailwards acceleration occurs in two steps and is slightly more efficient. In order to emphasise the effect of rotation, we only address the case of a fast-rotating planet where the co-rotation scale r* is of the order of the planetary counter-flow magnetopause stand-off distance rm. For Uranus, r*≫ rm and the effects of rotation are only visible at large tailwards distances r ≫ rm.
Key words: planet-star interactions / methods: numerical / plasmas / magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
© L. Griton and F. Pantellini 2020
Open Access article, published by EDP Sciences, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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