Geotail observations of substorm onset in the inner magnetotail

D. H. Fairfield, T. Mukai, A. T.Y. Lui, C. A. Cattell, G. D. Reeves, T. Nagai, G. Rostoker, H. J. Singer, M. L. Kaiser, S. Kokubun, A. J. Lazarus, R. P. Lepping, M. Nakamura, J. T. Steinberg, K. Tsuruda, D. J. Williams, T. Yamamoto

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On April 26, 1995, while Geotail was in the near-equatorial magnetotail at 13 RE and 2300 LT, a substorm onset occurred that was documented by ground magnetograms, auroral kilometric radiation, and magnetic field and particle data from four spacecraft at and near geosynchronous orbit. Although Geotail was initially outside a greatly thinned current sheet, plasma sheet thickening associated with the substorm dipolarization quickly caused Geotail to move into the plasma sheet where it observed field-aligned earthward moving ions with velocities of 400 km/s. During the subsequent few minutes as the magnetic field became more northward, the velocities increased with particles moving increasingly into the energy range of the energetic particle experiment. These flows culminated with 1-min worth of earthward flow of 2000 km/s that was perpendicular to the northward B field. Such flow, probably the largest ever detected at 13 RE, was confirmed by the observation of an intense dc electric field of 50 mV/m (0.3 megavolts/RE). This large field is probably inductive, caused by reconnection that occurred tailward of the spacecraft, and related to the acceleration processes associated with particle injection at geosynchronous orbit. Energy and magnetic flux conservation arguments suggest that this rapid flow has a small cross-tail dimension of the order of 1 RE. The data appear to support a simulation of Birn and Hesse [1996] which showed rapid earthward flows from a reconnection line at 23 RE that caused a tailward expansion of a region of dipolarized flux. Subsequent to the onset, Geotail observed plasma vortices with typical velocities of 50-100 km/s that occurred in a high-beta plasma sheet with a 15-nT northward magnetic field. The vortices were punctuated by occasional flow bursts with velocities up to 400 km/s, one of which was accompanied by a violently varying magnetic field where north/south field components were as large as 30 nT and as small as -8 nT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number97JA02043
Pages (from-to)103-117
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue numberA1
StatePublished - 1998


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