Mirror instability: 1. Physical mechanism of linear instability


  • David J. Southwood,

  • Margaret G. Kivelson


The mirror instability is prevalent in planetary and cometary magnetosheaths and other high beta environments. We review the physics of the linear instability. Although the instability was originally derived from magnetohydrodynamic fluid theory, later work showed that there were significant differences between the fluid theory and a more rigorous kinetic approach. Here we point out that the instability mechanism hinges on the special behavior of particles with small velocity along the field. We call such particles resonant particles by analogy with other uses of the term, but there are significant differences between the behavior of the resonant particles in this instability and in other instabilities driven by resonant particles. We comment on the implications of these results for our understanding of the observations of mirror instability-generated signals in space.