Dynamic auroral structure in the vicinity of the polar cusp - multipoint observations during southward and northward IMF
Sandholt, P.E., Lockwood, M., Denig, W.F., Elphic, R.C. and Leontjev, S. (1992) Dynamic auroral structure in the vicinity of the polar cusp - multipoint observations during southward and northward IMF. Annales Geophysicae, 10 (7). pp. 483-497.
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The low- and high-latitude boundary layers of the earth's magnetosphere [low-latitude boundary layer (LLBL) and mantle] play important roles in transferring momentum and energy from the solar wind to the magnetosphere-ionosphere system. Particle precipitation, field-aligned current, auroral emission, ionospheric ion drift and ground magnetic perturbations are among the low-altitude parameters that show signatures of various plasma processes in the LLBL and the magnetopause current layer. Magnetic merging events, Kelvin-Helmholtz waves, and pressure pulses excited by the variable solar wind/magnetosheath plasma are examples of boundary phenomena that may be coupled to the ionosphere via field-aligned currents. Optical auroral observation, by photometry and all-sky TV cameras, is a unique technique for investigating the spatial and temporal structure of the electron precipitation associated with such phenomena. However, the distinction between the different boundary layer plasma populations cannot in general be unambiguously determined by optics alone. Additional information, such as satellite observations of particle boundaries and field-aligned currents, is needed in order to identify the plasma source(s) and the magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling mode(s). Two categories of auroral activity/structure in the vicinity of the polar cusp are discussed in this paper, based on combined ground and satellite data. In one case, the quasi-periodic sequence of auroral events at the polar cap boundary involves accelerated electrons (< 1 keV) moving poleward (< 1 km s-1) and azimuthally along the persistent cusp/cleft arc poleward boundary with velocities (< 4 km s-1), comparable to the local ionospheric ion drift during periods of southward IMF. A critical question is whether or not the optical events signify a corresponding plasma flow across the open/closed field line boundary in such cases. Near-simultaneous observations of magnetopause flux transfer events (FTEs) and such optical/ion drift events are reported. The reverse pattern of motion of discrete auroral forms is observed during positive interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) B(Z), i.e. equatorward motion into the cusp/cleft background arc from the poleward edge. Combined satellite and ground-based information for the latter cases indicate a source mechanism, poleward of the cusp at the high-latitude magnetopause or plasma mantle, giving rise to strong momentum transfer and electron precipitation structures within a approximately 200 km-wide latitudinal zone at the cusp/cleft poleward boundary. The striking similarities of auroral electrodynamics in the cleft/mantle region during northward and southward IMF indicate that a qualitatively similar solar wind-magnetosphere coupling mode is operating. It is suggested that, in both cases, the discrete auroral forms represent temporal/spatial structure of larger-scale convection over the polar magnetosphere.