This project will use computer simulations to study the formation and evolution of flux transfer events (FTEs) at the dayside magnetopause of the Earth. The primary tool for the simulations will be 3-Dimensional hybrid simulations (kinetic particle treatment of ions with electrons treated as a fluid) but the will also use full particle-in-cell (PIC) simulations in a few cases to examine issues regarding electron acceleration during FTE events. Results from the hybrid simulations will be compared with global MHD simulations to determine how the introduction of ion kinetic effects changes the dynamics of an FTE event. The results will also be compared with observations from a variety of satellite missions (primarily NASA's Geotail and the European Space Agency's Cluster mission).
Flux transfer events are an important class of magnetic reconnection events that transport energy from the solar wind into the magnetosphere. Understanding FTE events requires global simulations in a realistic geometry and with realistic (and changing) solar wind conditions. It is only in the past few years that high performance computing capabilities have reached the petaflops scale that is necessary to do these simulations. The results from this work have the potential to transform our understanding of how and why these events occur. The project has strong educational benefits because graduate students will be involved with using the state-of-the-art computer codes and the state-of-the-art visualization tools. The project also includes using the results from the research in public outreach activities, particularly targeted toward K-12 schools with large, socio-economically disadvantaged students.