Turbulence in the solar heliosphere plays a relevant role in several aspects of plasma behavior in space, such as solar wind generation, high-energy particles acceleration, plasma heating, and cosmic rays propagation. In the 1970s and 80s, impressive advances have been made in the knowledge of turbulent phenomena in the solar wind. However, at that time, spacecraft observations were limited by a small latitudinal excursion around the solar equator and, in practice, only a thin slice above and below the equatorial plane was accessible, i.e., a sort of 2D heliosphere. A rather exhaustive survey of the most important results based on in-situ observations in the ecliptic plane has been provided in an excellent review by Tu and Marsch (1995a) and we invite the reader to refer to that paper. This one, to our knowledge, has been the last large review we find in literature related to turbulence observations in the ecliptic.
In the 1990s, with the launch of the Ulysses spacecraft, investigations have been extended to the high-latitude regions of the heliosphere, allowing us to characterize and study how turbulence evolves in the polar regions. An overview of Ulysses results about polar turbulence can also be found in Horbury and Tsurutani (2001). With this new laboratory, relevant advances have been made. One of the main goals of the present work will be that of reviewing observations and theoretical efforts made to understand the near-equatorial and polar turbulence in order to provide the reader with a rather complete view of the low-frequency turbulence phenomenon in the 3D heliosphere.
New interesting insights in the theory of turbulence derive from the point of view which considers a turbulent flow as a complex system, a sort of benchmark for the theory of dynamical systems. The theory of chaos received the fundamental impulse just through the theory of turbulence developed by Ruelle and Takens (1971) who, criticizing the old theory of Landau and Lifshitz (1971), were able to put the numerical investigation by Lorenz (1963) in a mathematical framework. Gollub and Swinney (1975) set up accurate experiments on rotating fluids confirming the point of view of Ruelle and Takens (1971) who showed that a strange attractor in the phase space of the system is the best model for the birth of turbulence. This gave a strong impulse to the investigation of the phenomenology of turbulence from the point of view of dynamical systems (Bohr et al., 1998). For example, the criticism by Landau leading to the investigation of intermittency in fully developed turbulence was worked out through some phenomenological models for the energy cascade (cf. Frisch, 1995). Recently, turbulence in the solar wind has been used as a big wind tunnel to investigate scaling laws of turbulent fluctuations, multifractals models, etc. The review by Tu and Marsch (1995a) contains a brief introduction to this important argument, which was being developed at that time relatively to the solar wind (Burlaga, 1993; Carbone, 1993; Biskamp, 1993, 2003; Burlaga, 1995). The reader can convince himself that, because of the wide range of scales excited, space plasma can be seen as a very big laboratory where fully developed turbulence can be investigated not only per se, rather as far as basic theoretical aspects are concerned.
Turbulence is perhaps the most beautiful unsolved problem of classical physics, the approaches used so far in understanding, describing, and modeling turbulence are very interesting even from a historic point of view, as it clearly appears when reading, for example, the book by Frisch (1995). History of turbulence in interplanetary space is, perhaps, even more interesting since its knowledge proceeds together with the human conquest of space. Thus, whenever appropriate, we will also introduce some historical references to show the way particular problems related to turbulence have been faced in time, both theoretically and technologically. Finally, since turbulence is a phenomenon visible everywhere in nature, it will be interesting to compare some experimental and theoretical aspects among different turbulent media in order to assess specific features which might be universal, not limited only to turbulence in space plasmas. In particular, we will compare results obtained in interplanetary space with results obtained from ordinary fluid flows on Earth, and from experiments on magnetic turbulence in laboratory plasmas designed for thermonuclear fusion.
© Max Planck Society and the author(s)