PIC simulations of stable surface waves on a subcritical fast magnetosonic shock front

M. E. Dieckmann, C. Huete, F. Cobos, A. Bret, D. Folini, B. Eliasson, R. Walder

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We study with particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations the stability of fast magnetosonic shocks. They expand across a collisionless plasma and an orthogonal magnetic field that is aligned with one of the directions resolved by the 2D simulations. The shock speed is 1.6 times the fast magnetosonic speed when it enters a layer with a reduced density of mobile ions, which decreases the shock speed by up to 15\% in 1D simulations. In the 2D simulations, the density of mobile ions in the layer varies sinusoidally perpendicularly to the shock normal. We resolve one sine period. This variation only leads to small changes in the shock speed evidencing a restoring force that opposes a shock deformation. As the shock propagates through the layer, the ion density becomes increasingly spatially modulated along the shock front and the magnetic field bulges out where the mobile ion density is lowest. The perturbed shock eventually reaches a steady state. Once it leaves the layer, the perturbations of the ion density and magnetic field oscillate along its front at a frequency close to the lower-hybrid frequency; the shock is mediated by a standing wave composed of obliquely propagating lower-hybrid waves. We perform three 2D simulations with different box lengths along the shock front. The shock front oscillations are aperiodically damped in the smallest box with the fastest variation of the ion density, strongly damped in the intermediate one, and weakly damped in the largest box. The shock front oscillations perturb the magnetic field in a spatial interval that extends by several electron skin depths upstream and downstream of the shock front and could give rise to Whistler waves that propagate along the shock's magnetic field overshoot. Similar waves were observed in hybrid and PIC simulations and by the MMS satellite mission.
Original languageEnglish
Article number095603
JournalPhysica Scripta
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • fast magnetosonic shock
  • PIC simulations
  • shock boundary oscillations


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