The dynamic quasiperpendicular shock: Cluster discoveries

V. Krasnoselskikh, M. Balikhin, S. N. Walker, S. Schwartz, D. Sundkvist, V. Lobzin, M. Gedalin, S. D. Bale, F. Mozer, J. Soucek, Y. Hobara, H. Comisel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


The physics of collisionless shocks is a very broad topic which has been studied for more than five decades. However, there are a number of important issues which remain unresolved. The energy repartition amongst particle populations in quasiperpendicular shocks is a multi-scale process related to the spatial and temporal structure of the electromagnetic fields within the shock layer. The most important processes take place in the close vicinity of the major magnetic transition or ramp region. The distribution of electromagnetic fields in this region determines the characteristics of ion reflection and thus defines the conditions for ion heating and energy dissipation for supercritical shocks and also the region where an important part of electron heating takes place. In other words, the ramp region determines the main characteristics of energy repartition. All these processes are crucially dependent upon the characteristic spatial scales of the ramp and foot region provided that the shock is stationary. The process of shock formation consists of the steepening of a large amplitude nonlinear wave. At some point in its evolution the steepening is arrested by processes occurring within the shock transition. From the earliest studies of collisionless shocks these processes were identified as nonlinearity, dissipation, and dispersion. Their relative role determines the scales of electric and magnetic fields, and so control the characteristics of processes such as ion reflection, electron heating and particle acceleration. The determination of the scales of the electric and magnetic field is one of the key issues in the physics of collisionless shocks. Moreover, it is well known that under certain conditions shocks manifest a nonstationary dynamic behaviour called reformation. It was suggested that the transition from stationary to nonstationary quasiperiodic dynamics is related to gradients, e.g. scales of the ramp region and its associated whistler waves that form a precursor wave train. This implies that the ramp region should be considered as the source of these waves. All these questions have been studied making use observations from the Cluster satellites. The Cluster project continues to provide a unique viewpoint from which to study the scales of shocks. During its lifetime the inter-satellite distance between the Cluster satellites has varied from 100 km to 10000 km allowing scientists to use the data best adapted for the given scientific objective. The purpose of this review is to address a subset of unresolved problems in collisionless shock physics from experimental point of view making use multi-point observations onboard Cluster satellites. The problems we address are determination of scales of fields and of a scale of electron heating, identification of energy source of precursor wave train, an estimate of the role of anomalous resistivity in energy dissipation process by means of measuring short scale wave fields, and direct observation of reformation process during one single shock front crossing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-598
Number of pages64
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2013


  • Collisionless shocks
  • Nonstationarity
  • Plasma heating and acceleration
  • Shock scales
  • Wave-particle interactions
  • Waves in plasmas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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