Let us investigate shocks in MHD fluids. Since information in such fluids is carried via three different waves--namely, fast or compressional-Alfvén waves, intermediate or shear-Alfvén waves, and slow or magnetosonic waves (see Sect. 5.4)--we might expect MHD fluids to support three different types of shock, corresponding to disturbances traveling faster than each of the aforementioned waves. This is indeed the case.
In general, a shock propagating through an MHD fluid produces a significant difference in plasma properties on either side of the shock front. The thickness of the front is determined by a balance between convective and dissipative effects. However, dissipative effects in high temperature plasmas are only comparable to convective effects when the spatial gradients in plasma variables become extremely large. Hence, MHD shocks in such plasmas tend to be extremely narrow, and are well-approximated as discontinuous changes in plasma parameters. The MHD equations, and Maxwell's equations, can be integrated across a shock to give a set of jump conditions which relate plasma properties on each side of the shock front. If the shock is sufficiently narrow then these relations become independent of its detailed structure. Let us derive the jump conditions for a narrow, planar, steady-state, MHD shock.
Maxwell's equations, and the MHD equations, (681)-(684),
can be written in the following convenient form:
Let us move into the rest frame of the shock. Suppose that the shock front coincides with the - plane. Furthermore, let the regions of the plasma upstream and downstream of the shock, which are termed regions 1 and 2, respectively, be spatially uniform and non-time-varying. It follows that . Moreover, , except in the immediate vicinity of the shock. Finally, let the velocity and magnetic fields upstream and downstream of the shock all lie in the - plane. The situation under discussion is illustrated in Fig. 28. Here, , , , and are the downstream mass density, pressure, velocity, and magnetic field, respectively, whereas , , , and are the corresponding upstream quantities.
In the immediate vicinity of the shock, Eqs. (919)-(923) reduce to