Patchy reconnection in the solar corona
Guidoni, Silvina Esther.
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Magnetic reconnection in plasmas, a process characterized by a change in connectivity of field lines that are broken and connected to other ones with different topology, owes its usefulness to its ability to unify a wide range of phenomena within a single universal principle. There are newly observed phenomena in the solar corona that cannot be reconciled with two-dimensional or steady-state standard models of magnetic reconnection. Supra-arcade downflows (SADs) and supra-arcade downflowing loops (SADLs) descending from reconnection regions toward solar post-flare arcades seem to be two different observational signatures of retracting, isolated reconnected flux tubes with irreducible three-dimensional geometries. This dissertation describes work in refining and improving a novel model of patchy reconnection, where only a small bundle of field lines is reconnected across a current sheet (magnetic discontinuity) and forms a reconnected thin flux tube. Traditional models have not been able to explain why some of the observed SADs appear to be hot and relatively devoid of plasma. The present work shows that plasma depletion naturally occurs in flux tubes that are reconnected across nonuniform current sheets and slide trough regions of decreasing magnetic field magnitude. Moreover, through a detailed theoretical analysis of generalized thin flux tube equations, we show that the addition to the model of pressure-driven parallel dynamics, as well as temperature-dependent, anisotropic viscosity and thermal conductivity is essential for self-consistently producing gas-dynamic shocks inside reconnected tubes that heat and compress plasma to observed temperatures and densities. The shock thickness can be as long as the entire tube and heat can be conducted along tube's legs, possibly driving chromospheric evaporation. We developed a computer program that solves numerically the thin flux tube equations that govern the retraction of reconnected tubes. Simulations carried out with this program corroborate our theoretical predictions. A comparison of these simulations with fully three-dimensional magnetohydrodynamic simulations is presented to assess the validity of the thin flux tube model. We also present an observational method based on total emission measure and mean temperature to determine where in the current sheet a tube was reconnected.