The Origin of Switchbacks in the Solar Corona: Linear Theory
The origin, structure, and propagation characteristics of a switchback are compelling questions posed by Parker Solar Probe (PSP) observations of velocity spikes and magnetic field reversals. By assuming interchange reconnection between coronal loop and open magnetic field, we show that this results in the generation of upward (into the heliosphere) and downward complex structures propagating at the fast magnetosonic speed (i.e., the Alfvén speed in the low plasma beta corona) that can have an arbitrary radial magnetic field deflection, including “S-shaped.” We derive the evolution equation for the switchback radial magnetic field as it propagates through the inhomogeneous supersonic solar corona. An analytic solution for arbitrary initial conditions is used to investigate the properties of a switchback propagating from launch ∼6 to ∼35 R ⊙ where PSP observed switchbacks during its first encounter. We provide a detailed comparison to an example event, showing that the magnetic field and plasma solutions are in accord with PSP observations. For a simple single switchback, the model predicts either a single or a double-humped structure; the former corresponding to PSP observing either the main body or the flanks of the switchback. The clustering of switchbacks and their sometimes complicated structure may be due to the formation of multiple closely spaced switchbacks created by interchange reconnection with numerous open and loop magnetic field lines over a short period. We show that their evolution yields a complex, aggregated group of switchbacks that includes “sheaths” with large-amplitude radial magnetic field and velocity fluctuations.
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The Astrophysical Journal
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