skip to main content

Title: Data Mining Reconstruction of Magnetotail Reconnection and Implications for Its First-Principle Modeling
Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental process providing topological changes of the magnetic field, reconfiguration of space plasmas and release of energy in key space weather phenomena, solar flares, coronal mass ejections and magnetospheric substorms. Its multiscale nature is difficult to study in observations because of their sparsity. Here we show how the lazy learning method, known as K nearest neighbors, helps mine data in historical space magnetometer records to provide empirical reconstructions of reconnection in the Earth’s magnetotail where the energy of solar wind-magnetosphere interaction is stored and released during substorms. Data mining reveals two reconnection regions (X-lines) with different properties. In the mid tail ( ∼ 30 R E from Earth, where R E is the Earth’s radius) reconnection is steady, whereas closer to Earth ( ∼ 20 R E ) it is transient. It is found that a similar combination of the steady and transient reconnection processes can be reproduced in kinetic particle-in-cell simulations of the magnetotail current sheet.
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Physics
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Reconnection in the magnetotail occurs along so‐called X‐lines, where magnetic field lines tear and detach from plasma on microscopic spatial scales (comparable to particle gyroradii). In 2017–2020, the Magnetospheric MultiScale (MMS) mission detected X‐lines in the magnetotail enabling their investigation on local scales. However, the global structure and evolution of these X‐lines, critical for understanding their formation and total energy conversion mechanisms, remained virtually unknown because of the intrinsically local nature of observations and the extreme sparsity of concurrent data. Here, we show that mining a multi‐mission archive of space magnetometer data collected over the last 26 yr and then fitting a magnetic field representation modeled using flexible basis‐functions faithfully reconstructs the global pattern of X‐lines; 24 of the 26 modeled X‐lines match (Bz = 0 isocontours are within ∼2 Earth radii orRE) or nearly match (Bz = 2 nT isocontours are within ∼2RE) the locations of the MMS encountered reconnection sites. The obtained global reconnection picture is considered in the context of substorm activity, including conventional substorms and more complex events.

  2. Abstract

    Energetic particles of magnetospheric origin constantly strike the Earth’s upper atmosphere in the polar regions, producing optical emissions known as the aurora. The most spectacular auroral displays are associated with recurrent events called magnetospheric substorms (aka auroral substorms). Substorms are initiated in the nightside magnetosphere on closed magnetic field lines. As a consequence, it is generally thought that auroral substorms should occur in both hemispheres on the same field line (i.e., magnetically conjugated). However, such a hypothesis has not been verified statistically. Here, by analyzing 2659 auroral substorms acquired by the Ultraviolet Imager on board the NASA satellite “Polar”, we have discovered surprising evidence that the averaged location for substorm onsets is not conjugate but shows a geographic preference that cannot be easily explained by current substorm theories. In the Northern Hemisphere (NH) the auroral substorms occur most frequently in Churchill, Canada (~90°W) and Khatanga, Siberia (~100°E), up to three times as often as in Iceland (~22°W). In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), substorms occur more frequently over a location in the Antarctic ocean (~120°E), up to ~4 times more than over the Antarctic Continent. Such a large difference in the longitudinal distribution of north and south onset defies themore »common belief that substorms in the NH and SH should be magnetically conjugated. A further analysis indicates that these substorm events occurred more frequently when more of the ionosphere was dark. These geographic areas also coincide with regions where the Earth’s magnetic field is largest. These facts suggest that auroral substorms occur more frequently, and perhaps more intensely, when the ionospheric conductivity is lower. With much of the magnetotail energy coming from the solar wind through merging of the interplanetary and Earth’s magnetic field, it is generally thought that the occurrence of substorms is externally controlled by the solar wind and plasma instability in the magnetotail. The present study results provide a strong argument that the ionosphere plays a more active role in the occurrence of substorms.

    « less
  3. Abstract

    The magnetotail current sheet carries the current responsible for the largest fraction of the energy storage in the magnetotail, the magnetic energy in the lobes. It is thus inextricably linked with the dynamics and evolution of many magnetospheric phenomena, such as substorms. The magnetotail current sheet structure and stability depend mostly on the kinetic properties of the plasma populating the magnetotail. One of the most underinvestigated properties of this plasma is electron temperature anisotropy, which may contribute a large fraction of the total current. Using observations from five missions in the magnetotail, we examine the electron temperature anisotropy,Te/Te, and its potential contribution to the current density, quantified by the firehose parameter (βeβe)/2, acrossy∈[−20,20]REandx∈[−100,−10]RE. We find that a significant fraction (>30%) of all current sheets have an anisotropic electron current density >10% of the total current. These current sheets form two distinct groups: (1) near‐Earth (<30 RE) accompanied by weak plasma flows (<100 km/s) and enhanced equatorial magnetic field (>3 nT) and (2) middle tail (>40 RE) accompanied by fast plasma flows (>300 km/s) and small equatorial magnetic field (≤1 nT). For a significant number of near‐Earth current sheets, the anisotropic electron current can be >25% of the total current density. Our findings suggest that electronmore »temperature anisotropy should be included in current sheet models describing realistic magnetotail structure and dynamics.

    « less
  4. Abstract

    Rapid plasma eruptions explosively release energy within Earth’s magnetosphere, at the Sun and at other planets. At Earth, these eruptions, termed plasmoids, occur in the magnetospheric nightside and are associated with sudden brightening of the aurora. The chain of events leading to the plasmoid is one of the longest-standing unresolved questions in space physics. Two competing paradigms have been proposed to explain the course of events. The first asserts that magnetic reconnection changes the magnetic topology in the tail, severing a part of the magnetosphere as plasmoid. The second employs kinetic instabilities that first disrupt the current sheet supporting the magnetotail and launch waves that trigger the topological change to eject the plasmoid. Here we numerically simulate Earth’s magnetosphere at realistic scales using a model that captures the physics underlying both paradigms. We show that both magnetic reconnection and kinetic instabilities are required to induce a global topological reconfiguration of the magnetotail, thereby combining the seemingly contradictory paradigms. Our results help to understand how plasma eruptions may take place, guide spacecraft constellation mission design to capture these ejections in observations and lead to improved understanding of space weather by improving the predictability of the plasmoids.

  5. Abstract

    The magnetospheric substorm is a key mode of flux and energy transport throughout the magnetosphere associated with distinct and repeatable magnetotail dynamical processes and plasma injections. The substorm growth phase is characterized by current sheet thinning and magnetic field reconfiguration around the equatorial plane. The global characteristics of current sheet thinning are important for understanding of magnetotail state right before the onset of magnetic reconnection and of the key substorm expansion phase. In this paper, we investigate this thinning at different radial distances using plasma sheet (PS) energetic (>50 keV) electrons that reach from the equator to low altitudes during their fast (∼1 s) travel along magnetic field lines. We perform a multi‐case study and a statistical analysis of 34 events with near‐equatorial observations of the current sheet thinning by equatorial missions and concurrent, latitudinal crossings of the ionospheric projection of the magnetotail by the low‐altitude Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) CubeSats at approximately the same local time sector. Energetic electron fluxes thus collected by ELFIN provide near‐instantaneous (<5 min duration) radial snapshots of magnetotail fluxes. Main findings of this study confirm the previously proposed concepts with low‐altitude energetic electron measurements: (a) Energy distributions of low‐altitude fluxes are quantitatively close tomore »the near‐equatorial distributions, which justifies the investigation of the magnetotail current sheet reconfiguration using low‐altitude measurements. (b) The magnetic field reconfiguration during the current sheet thinning (which lasts ≥ an hour) results in a rapid shrinking of the low‐altitude projection of the entire PS (from near‐Earth, ∼10RE, to the lunar orbit ∼60RE) to 1–2° of magnetic latitude in the ionosphere. (c) The current sheet dipolarization, common during the substorm onset, is associated with a very quick (∼10 min) change of the tail magnetic field configuration to its dipolar state, as implied by a poleward expansion of the PSPS at low altitudes.

    « less