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Basic Space Plasma Physics


One more textbook on plasma physics? Indeed, there are a number of excellent textbooks on the market, like the incomparable book 'Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion' by Francis F. Chen. It is impossible to compete with a book of this clarity, or some of the other texts which have been around for longer or shorter. However, we found most of the books not well-suited for a course on space plasma physics. Some are directed more toward the interests of laboratory plasma physics, like Chen's book, others are highly mathematical, such that it would have required an additional course in applied mathematics to make them accessible to the students. The vast majority of books in the field of space plasma physics, however, are collections of review articles or tutorials.

To give the students a feeling for the coherency of our field, we felt the need to find a compromise between classical plasma physics textbooks and review-like articles. We tried to achieve this goal during a third-year space plasma physics course, which we gave regularly at the University of Munich since 1988 for undergraduate and graduate students of geophysics, who had an average knowledge of fluid dynamics and electromagnetism.

This textbook collects and expands lecture notes from these two-semester courses. However, the first part can also be used for a one-semester undergraduate course and research scientists may find the later chapters of the second part helpful. The book is written in a self-contained way and most of the material is presented including the basic steps of derivation so that the reader can follow without need to consult original sources. Some of the more involved mathematical derivations are given in the Appendix. Special emphasis is placed on providing instructive figures.

The first five chapters provide an introduction into space physics, based on a mixture of simple theory and a description of the wealth of space plasma phenomena. A concise description of the Earth's plasma environment is followed by a derivation of single particle motion in electromagnetic fields, adiabatic invariants, and applications to the Earth's magnetosphere and ring current. Then the origin and effects of collisions and conductivities and the formation of the ionosphere are discussed. Ohm's law and the frozen-in concept are introduced on a somewhat heuristic basis. The first part ends with an introduction into magnetospheric dynamics, including convection electric fields, current systems, substorms, and other macroscopic aspects of solar wind-magnetosphere and magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling.

The second part of the book presents a more rigorous theoretical foundation of space plasma physics, yet still contains many applications to space physics. It starts from kinetic theory, which is built on the Klimontovich approach. Introducing moments of the distribution function allows the derivation of the single and multi-fluid equations, followed by a discussion of fluid boundaries and shocks, with the Earth's magnetopause and bow shock as examples. Both, fluid and kinetic theory are then applied to derive the relevant wave modes in a plasma, again with applications from space physics.

The material presented in the present book is extended in Advanced Space Plasma Physics , written by the same authors. This companion textbook gives a representative selection of the many macro- and microinstabilities in a plasma, from the Rayleigh-Taylor and Kelvin-Helmholtz to the electrostatic and electromagnetic instabilities, and a comprehensive overview on the nonlinear aspects relevant for space plasma physics, e.g., wave-particle interaction, solitons, and anomalous transport.

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Last update of this page 2003-02-11 by Helmut Steinle on behalf of Wolfgang Baumjohann.
Please send comments to baumjohann@oeaw.ac.at !