Physics of plasmas vol:10 issue:11 pages:4478-4488
A numerical study of an idealized magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) configuration consisting of a planar wake flow embedded into a three-dimensional (3D) sheared magnetic field is presented. The simulations investigate the possibility for in situ development of large-scale compressive disturbances at cospatial current sheet-velocity shear regions in the heliosphere. Using a linear MHD solver, the systematical investigation of the destabilized wavenumbers, corresponding growth rates, and physical parameter ranges for dominant 3D sinuous-type instabilities in an equilibrium wake-current sheet system was done. Wakes bounded by sufficiently supersonic (Mach number M-s>2.6) flow streams are found to support dominant fully 3D sinuous instabilities when the plasma beta is of order unity. Fully nonlinear, compressible 2.5D and 3D MHD simulations show the self-consistent formation of shock fronts of fast magnetosonic type. They carry density perturbations far away from the wake's center. Shock formation conditions are identified in sonic and Alfvenic Mach number parameter space. Depending on the wake velocity contrast and magnetic field magnitude, as well as on the initial perturbation, the emerging shock patterns can be plane-parallel as well as fully three-dimensionally structured. Similar large-scale transients could therefore originate at distances far above coronal helmet streamers or at the location of the ecliptic current sheet. (C) 2003 American Institute of Physics.