Counterstreaming strahls and heat flux dropouts as possible signatures of local particle acceleration in the solar wind

Olga Khabarova, Valentina Zharkova, Qian Xia, Olga Malandraki

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Suprathermal electrons with energies of ~70 eV and above are observed at 1 au as dispersionless halo electrons and magnetic field-aligned beams of strahls. For a long time, it has been thought that both populations originate only from the solar corona, and that the only active process impacting their properties in the solar wind is scattering. This view has consequently impacted the interpretation of typical patterns of pitch-angle distributions (PADs) of suprathermal electrons. Meanwhile, recent observational studies supported by numerical simulations have shown that there is an unaccounted population of electrons accelerated to suprathermal energies at reconnecting current sheets (RCSs) and 3D dynamical plasmoids (or 2D magnetic islands (MIs)) directly in the heliosphere. We present multispacecraft observations of counterstreaming strahls and heat flux dropouts in PADs within a region filled with plasmoids and RCSs unaffected by interplanetary shocks, comparing observed PAD features with those predicted by particle-in-cell simulations. We show typical PAD patterns determined by local acceleration of thermal-core electrons up to hundreds of electron volts. Resulting PAD views depend on properties and topology of particular RCSs, MIs, and plasma/magnetic field parameters. Our study suggests that solar wind-borne suprathermal electrons coexist with those of solar origin. Therefore, some of heat flux dropout and bidirectional strahl events can be explained by local dynamical processes involving magnetic reconnection. Possible implications of the results for the interpretation of the actively debated decrease in the strahl/halo relative density with heliocentric distance and puzzling features of suprathermal electrons observed at crossings of the heliospheric current sheet and cometary comas are also discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL12
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2020


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