Numerical Simulation of Interplanetary and Magnetospheric Phenomena: The Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability

  1. J. H. Waite Jr.,
  2. J. L. Burch and
  3. R. L. Moore
  1. Melvyn L. Goldstein1,
  2. D. Aaron Roberts1 and
  3. William H. Matthaeus2

Published Online: 18 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1029/GM054p0113

Solar System Plasma Physics

Solar System Plasma Physics

How to Cite

Goldstein, M. L., Aaron Roberts, D. and Matthaeus, W. H. (1989) Numerical Simulation of Interplanetary and Magnetospheric Phenomena: The Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability, in Solar System Plasma Physics (eds J. H. Waite, J. L. Burch and R. L. Moore), American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.. doi: 10.1029/GM054p0113

Author Information

  1. 1

    Code 692, Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771

  2. 2

    Bartol Research Institute, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 18 MAR 2013
  2. Published Print: 1 JAN 1989

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780875900742

Online ISBN: 9781118664315



  • Space plasmas;
  • Sun;
  • Magnetosphere;
  • Astrophysics


A series of numerical simulations are described which comprise part of a study of processes important in both interplanetary and magnetospheric physics. One goal is to understand the evolution and small-scale structure of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability in the presence of sheared magnetic fields, including magnetic neutral sheets which can be the site of turbulent magnetic reconnection. These simulations use a two-dimensional spectral method code to solve the equations of incompressible magnetohydrodynamics with magnetic and kinetic Reynolds numbers of 1000. We find that the presence of magnetic fields in the vicinity of the velocity shears greatly influences the development of the nonlinear Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. Configurations that model the boundary between fast and slow speed streams in the solar wind are discussed, and we present evidence that stream shear may produce magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence in the solar wind. In simulations designed to study the magnetosheath-magnetopause boundary in Earth's tail, we find that large vortical structures are formed that resemble observed plasma flows.