Hall magnetohydrodynamics of partially ionized plasmas

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    The Hall effect arises in a plasma when electrons are able to drift with the magnetic field but ions cannot. In a fully ionized plasma this occurs for frequencies between the ion and electron cyclotron frequencies because of the larger ion inertia. Typically this frequency range lies well above the frequencies of interest (such as the dynamical frequency of the system under consideration) and can be ignored. In a weakly ionized medium, however, the Hall effect arises through a different mechanism - neutral collisions preferentially decouple ions from the magnetic field. This typically occurs at much lower frequencies and the Hall effect may play an important role in the dynamics of weakly ionized systems such as the Earth's ionosphere and protoplanetary discs. To clarify the relationship between these mechanisms we develop an approximate single-fluid description of a partially ionized plasma that becomes exact in the fully ionized and weakly ionized limits. Our treatment includes the effects of ohmic, ambipolar and Hall diffusion. We show that the Hall effect is relevant to the dynamics of a partially ionized medium when the dynamical frequency exceeds the ratio of ion to bulk mass density times the ion-cyclotron frequency, i.e. the Hall frequency. The corresponding length-scale is inversely proportional to the ion to bulk mass density ratio as well as to the ion-Hall beta parameter. In a weakly ionized medium, the critical frequency becomes small enough that Hall magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) is an accurate representation of the dynamics. More generally, ohmic and ambipolar diffusion may also be important. We show that both ambipolar and Hall diffusion depend upon the fractional ionization of the medium. However, unlike ambipolar diffusion, Hall diffusion may also be important in the high fractional ionization limit. The wave properties of a partially ionized medium are investigated in the ambipolar and Hall limits. We show that in the ambipolar regime wave damping is dependent on both fractional ionization and ion-neutral collision frequencies. In the Hall regime, since the frequency of a whistler wave is inversely proportional to the fractional ionization, and bounded by the ion-neutral collision frequency it will play an important role in the Earth's ionosphere, solar photosphere and astrophysical discs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2269-2278
    Number of pages10
    JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


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