The fundamental processes responsible for energy exchange between large-scale electromagnetic fields and plasma are well understood theoretically, but in practice these theories have not been tested. These processes are ubiquitous in all plasmas, especially at the interface between high and low beta plasmas in planetary magnetospheres and other magnetic environments. Although such boundaries pervade the plasma Universe, the processes responsible for the release of the stored magnetic and thermal plasma energy have not been fully identified and the importance of the relative impact of each process is unknown. Despite advances in understanding energy release through the conversion of magnetic to kinetic energy in magnetic reconnection, how the extreme pressures in the regions between stretched and more relaxed field lines in the transition region are balanced and released through adiabatic convection of plasma and fields is still a mystery. Recent theoretical advances and the predictions of large-scale instabilities must be tested. In essence, the processes responsible remain poorly understood and the problem unresolved.
The aim of the White Paper submitted to ESA’s Voyage 2050 call, and the contents of this paper, is to highlight three outstanding open science questions that are of clear international interest: (i) the interplay of local and global plasma physics processes: (ii) the partitioning during energy conversion between electromagnetic and plasma energy: and (iii) what processes drive the coupling between low and high beta plasmas. We present a discussion of the new measurements and technological advances required from current state-of-the-art, and several candidate mission profiles with which these international high-priority science goals could be significantly advanced.