Electrodynamics in a very thin current sheet leading to magnetic reconnection
We study the formation of a very thin current sheet (CS) and associated plasma electrodynamics using three-dimensional (3-D) particle-in-cell simulations with ion to electron mass ratio M/m=1836. The CS is driven by imposed anti-parallel magnetic fields. The noteworthy features of the temporal evolution of the CS are the following: (i) Steepening of the magnetic field profile B x(z) in the central part of the CS, (ii) Generation of three-peak current distribution with the largest peak in the CS center as B x(z) steepens, (iii) Generation of converging electric fields forming a potential well in the CS center in which ions are accelerated. (iv) Electron and ion heating in the central part of the CS by current-driven instabilities (CDI). (v) Re-broadening of the CS due to increased kinetic plasma pressure in the CS center. (vi) Generation of electron temperature anisotropy with temperature perpendicular to the magnetic field being larger than the parallel one. (vii) Current disruption by electron trapping in an explosively growing electrostatic instability (EGEI) and electron tearing instability (ETI). (viii)The onset of EGEI coincides with an increase in the electron temperature above the temperature of the initially hot ions as well as the appearance of new shear in the electron drift velocity. (ix) Bifurcation of the central CS by the current disruption. (x) Magnetic reconnection (MR) beginning near the null in B x and spreading outward. (xi) Generation of highly energized electrons reaching relativistic speeds and having isotropic pitch-angle distribution in the region of reconnected magnetic fields. We compare some of these features of the current sheet with results from laboratory and space experiments.