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Thermal Protons in the Morning Magnetosphere: Filling and Heating Near the Equatorial Plasmapause

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Planetary and Space Science





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Thermal H+ distributions have been measured as the European Space Agency GEOS-1 satellite passed through the late morning equatorial magnetosphere, plasmapause and plasmasphere. The unique capabilities of the on-board Supralhermal Plasma Analysers (SPA) have been used to overcome the retarding floating potential of the satellite and measure the velocity distribution of the cold protons. In the magnetosphere an enhanced source cone of such ions with a temperature of ~ 0.5 eV is a signature of the filling process occurring outside the plasmapause where flux tubes are relatively empty. In the plasmasphere the thermal H+ is essentially isotropic with a temperature less than 0.5 eV but the motion of the satellite introduces apparent drift. These measurements of cold proton velocity distribution now permit a reappraisal of the definition of the “plasmapause”. It becomes inappropriate to use an arbitrary empirical density, e.g. the conventional 10 cm −3, in order to establish a boundary. It is now possible to identify a plasmapause interaction region where the two cold proton populations co-exist. This region generally lies Earthward of the 10 cm −3 density level, has a width which is strongly dependent on magnetic activity and the temperature is typically between 0.5 and 1.5 eV. The change from “filled” to “unfilled” flux tubes relates to the physical processes which are occurring and the controlling electric field configuration; in particular, the last closed equipotential. Throughout this region, in going from the plasmasphere to the magnetosphere, the plasma drift motion is expected to change from corotation to a convection which is controlled by E ×B, and is predominantly Sunward due to the dawn-dusk electric field. Crossing the plasmapause on the morning side, little change in drift direction should occur but subtle variations in the ionic velocity distribution do reflect the change in the degree of flux tube density equilibrium. Our first direct measurement of the magnetospheric E × B drift has been reported previously but here measurements from a selected six day period show how the plasma in the plasmapause region responds to changing magnetospheric activity. The drift velocities cannot he derived with high accuracy but the analysis shows that the technique can provide a valid mapping of the magnelospheric electric field. In addition, since the magnetospheric cold plasma distribution is observed after it has come from the ionosphere, a distance of many Earth radii, the scattering and accelerating mechanisms along the flux tube can be studied. For this particular data-set taken in the late morning, the maximum potential drops along the flux tubes were less than a volt. The ionospheric proton source cone is observed to be broad, pitch angle scattering persists up to 40 or even 70°. Although these results throw new light on the plasmaspheric filling process one must recognise that, however the plasmapause is defined, it is not a simple matter to map this boundary from the equatorial plane down to low altitudes and the mid-latitude trough.


Originally published by Elsevier. Publisher’s PDF available through remote link.