Kelvin-Helmholtz instability of twisted magnetic flux tubes in the solar wind

Research paper by T. V. Zaqarashvili, Z. Vörös, I. Zhelyazkov

Indexed on: 18 Nov '13Published on: 18 Nov '13Published in: arXiv - Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics


Solar wind plasma is supposed to be structured in magnetic flux tubes carried from the solar surface. Tangential velocity discontinuity near the boundaries of individual tubes may result in Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, which may contribute into the solar wind turbulence. While the axial magnetic field may stabilize the instability, a small twist in the magnetic field may allow to sub-Alfvenic motions to be unstable. We aim to study the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability of twisted magnetic flux tube in the solar wind with different configurations of external magnetic field. We use magnetohydrodynamic equations in the cylindrical geometry and derive the dispersion equations governing the dynamics of twisted magnetic flux tube moving along its axis in the cases of untwisted and twisted external fields. Then we solve the dispersion equations analytically and numerically and found thresholds for Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in both cases of external field. Both analytical and numerical solutions show that the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability is suppressed in the twisted tube by external axial magnetic field for sub-Alfvenic motions. However, even small twist in the external magnetic field allows the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability to be developed for any sub-Alfvenic motions. The unstable harmonics correspond to vortices with high azimuthal mode numbers, which are carried by the flow. Twisted magnetic flux tubes can be unstable to Kelvin-Helmholtz instability when they move with small speed relative to main solar wind stream, then the Kelvin-Helmholtz vortices may significantly contribute into the solar wind turbulence.