Large-Scale Instabilities and Dynamics of the Magnetotail Plasma Sheet

  1. T. E. Moore,
  2. J. H. Waite Jr.,
  3. T. W. Moorehead and
  4. W. B. Hanson
  1. J. Birn1 and
  2. K. Schindler2

Published Online: 18 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1029/GM044p0251

Modeling Magnetospheric Plasma

Modeling Magnetospheric Plasma

How to Cite

Birn, J. and Schindler, K. (1988) Large-Scale Instabilities and Dynamics of the Magnetotail Plasma Sheet, in Modeling Magnetospheric Plasma (eds T. E. Moore, J. H. Waite, T. W. Moorehead and W. B. Hanson), American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.. doi: 10.1029/GM044p0251

Author Information

  1. 1

    Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545

  2. 2

    Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 4630 Bochum 1, FRG

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 18 MAR 2013
  2. Published Print: 1 JAN 1988

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780875900704

Online ISBN: 9781118664414



  • Space plasmas—Mathematical models;
  • Magnetosphere—Mathematical models;
  • Ionosphere—Mathematical models


We review the stability properties of the magnetotail current sheet against large-scale modes in the framework of ideal MHD, resistive MHD, and collisionless Vlasov theory. It appears that the small deviations from a plane sheet pinch (in particular, a magnetic field component normal to the sheet) are important to explain the transition of the tail from a quiet stable state to an unstable dynamic state. It is found that the tail is essentially stable in ideal MHD, but unstable in resistive MHD, while both stable and unstable configurations are found within collisionless theory. The results favor an interpretation where the onset of magnetotail dynamics leading to a sudden thinning of the plasma sheet and the ejection of a plasmoid is caused by the onset of a collisionless instability that either directly leads to the growth of a collisionless tearing mode or, via microscopic turbulence, leads to the growth of a resistive mode. The actual onset conditions are not fully explored yet by rigorous methods. The onset may be triggered by local conditions as well as by boundary conditions at the ionosphere or at the magnetopause (resulting from solar wind conditions).