Chorus waves and spacecraft potential fluctuations: Evidence for wave-enhanced photoelectron escape

D. M. Malaspina, R. E. Ergun, A. Sturner, J. R. Wygant, J. W. Bonnell, A. Breneman, K. Kersten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Chorus waves are important for electron energization and loss in Earth's radiation belts and inner magnetosphere. Because the amplitude and spatial distribution of chorus waves can be strongly influenced by plasma density fluctuations and spacecraft floating potential can be a diagnostic of plasma density, the relationship between measured potential and chorus waves is examined using Van Allen Probes data. While measured potential and chorus wave electric fields correlate strongly, potential fluctuation properties are found not to be consistent with plasma density fluctuations on the timescales of individual chorus wave packets. Instead, potential fluctuations are consistent with enhanced photoelectron escape driven by chorus wave electric fields. Enhanced photoelectron escape may result in potential fluctuations of the spacecraft body, the electric field probes, or both, depending on the ambient plasma and magnetic field environment. These results differ significantly from prior interpretations of the correspondence between measured potential and wave electric fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-243
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 28 2014


  • chorus waves
  • density fluctuations
  • radiation belts
  • spacecraft potential
  • terrestrial magnetosphere


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