skip to main content

Title: ELFIN observations of energetic electron precipitation and backscatter: implication for losses, atmospheric effects, and magnetospheric populations.
We report on the behavior of precipitating and backscattered energetic electrons as function of latitude, energy and pitch-angle across a wide range of local times. ELFIN’s two spinning satellites from a 450km altitude, near-polar orbit, permit excellent resolution of pitch-angles (22.5deg) well within the loss cone, and allow clear discrimination of locally trapped and field-aligned electrons between 50keV and 5MeV (dE/E ~ 40%). We find that at times of low precipitation (fluxes <10% of trapped) both precipitating and backscattered electrons are present and their ratio is close to 1. This is likely because atmospheric scattering contributes to loss-cone filling, both up and down the field line. When precipitation is significant (flux >10% of trapped, up to an energy Epmax) it dominates the upward-to-downward flux ratio at energies as low as 0.2 times Epmax, rendering that ratio very low (<10%). However, below ~0.2Epmax, as well as above Epmax, backscattering is a significant fraction of precipitation. We discuss the possible reasons for this backscatter. We also discuss the implications of our findings for electron losses from the radiation belts, for modeling atmospheric effects of energetic electron precipitation and for populating the magnetosphere with field-aligned energetic electrons.
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Fall AGU 2020
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract The Electron Loss and Fields Investigation with a Spatio-Temporal Ambiguity-Resolving option (ELFIN-STAR, or heretoforth simply: ELFIN) mission comprises two identical 3-Unit (3U) CubeSats on a polar (∼93 ∘ inclination), nearly circular, low-Earth (∼450 km altitude) orbit. Launched on September 15, 2018, ELFIN is expected to have a >2.5 year lifetime. Its primary science objective is to resolve the mechanism of storm-time relativistic electron precipitation, for which electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves are a prime candidate. From its ionospheric vantage point, ELFIN uses its unique pitch-angle-resolving capability to determine whether measured relativistic electron pitch-angle and energy spectra within the loss cone bear the characteristic signatures of scattering by EMIC waves or whether such scattering may be due to other processes. Pairing identical ELFIN satellites with slowly-variable along-track separation allows disambiguation of spatial and temporal evolution of the precipitation over minutes-to-tens-of-minutes timescales, faster than the orbit period of a single low-altitude satellite (T orbit ∼ 90 min). Each satellite carries an energetic particle detector for electrons (EPDE) that measures 50 keV to 5 MeV electrons with $\Delta $ Δ E/E < 40% and a fluxgate magnetometer (FGM) on a ∼72 cm boom that measures magnetic field waves (e.g., EMIC waves) in the range from DC tomore »5 Hz Nyquist (nominally) with <0.3 nT/sqrt(Hz) noise at 1 Hz. The spinning satellites (T spin $\,\sim $ ∼ 3 s) are equipped with magnetorquers (air coils) that permit spin-up or -down and reorientation maneuvers. Using those, the spin axis is placed normal to the orbit plane (nominally), allowing full pitch-angle resolution twice per spin. An energetic particle detector for ions (EPDI) measures 250 keV – 5 MeV ions, addressing secondary science. Funded initially by CalSpace and the University Nanosat Program, ELFIN was selected for flight with joint support from NSF and NASA between 2014 and 2018 and launched by the ELaNa XVIII program on a Delta II rocket (with IceSatII as the primary). Mission operations are currently funded by NASA. Working under experienced UCLA mentors, with advice from The Aerospace Corporation and NASA personnel, more than 250 undergraduates have matured the ELFIN implementation strategy; developed the instruments, satellite, and ground systems and operate the two satellites. ELFIN’s already high potential for cutting-edge science return is compounded by concurrent equatorial Heliophysics missions (THEMIS, Arase, Van Allen Probes, MMS) and ground stations. ELFIN’s integrated data analysis approach, rapid dissemination strategies via the SPace Environment Data Analysis System (SPEDAS), and data coordination with the Heliophysics/Geospace System Observatory (H/GSO) optimize science yield, enabling the widest community benefits. Several storm-time events have already been captured and are presented herein to demonstrate ELFIN’s data analysis methods and potential. These form the basis of on-going studies to resolve the primary mission science objective. Broad energy precipitation events, precipitation bands, and microbursts, clearly seen both at dawn and dusk, extend from tens of keV to >1 MeV. This broad energy range of precipitation indicates that multiple waves are providing scattering concurrently. Many observed events show significant backscattered fluxes, which in the past were hard to resolve by equatorial spacecraft or non-pitch-angle-resolving ionospheric missions. These observations suggest that the ionosphere plays a significant role in modifying magnetospheric electron fluxes and wave-particle interactions. Routine data captures starting in February 2020 and lasting for at least another year, approximately the remainder of the mission lifetime, are expected to provide a very rich dataset to address questions even beyond the primary mission science objective.« less
  2. Abstract

    Energetic electron precipitation from Earth’s outer radiation belt heats the upper atmosphere and alters its chemical properties. The precipitating flux intensity, typically modelled using inputs from high-altitude, equatorial spacecraft, dictates the radiation belt’s energy contribution to the atmosphere and the strength of space-atmosphere coupling. The classical quasi-linear theory of electron precipitation through moderately fast diffusive interactions with plasma waves predicts that precipitating electron fluxes cannot exceed fluxes of electrons trapped in the radiation belt, setting an apparent upper limit for electron precipitation. Here we show from low-altitude satellite observations, that ~100 keV electron precipitation rates often exceed this apparent upper limit. We demonstrate that such superfast precipitation is caused by nonlinear electron interactions with intense plasma waves, which have not been previously incorporated in radiation belt models. The high occurrence rate of superfast precipitation suggests that it is important for modelling both radiation belt fluxes and space-atmosphere coupling.

  3. Electron injections are critical processes associated with magnetospheric substorms, which deposit significant electron energy into the ionosphere. Although wave scattering of <10 keV electrons during injections has been well studied, the link between magnetotail electron injections and energetic (≥100 keV) electron precipitation remains elusive. Using conjugate observations between the ELFIN and Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) missions, we present evidence of tens to hundreds of keV electron precipitation to the ionosphere potentially driven by kinetic Alfvén waves (KAWs) associated with magnetotail electron injections and magnetic field gradients. Test particle simulations adapted to observations show that dipolarization-front magnetic field gradients and associated ∇B drifts allow Doppler-shifted Landau resonances between the injected electrons and KAWs, producing electron spatial scattering across the front which results in pitch-angle decreases and subsequent precipitation. Test particle results show that such KAW-driven precipitation can account for ELFIN observations below ∼300 keV.
  4. Abstract

    The ionosphere is one of the important sources for magnetospheric plasma, particularly for heavy ions with low charge states. We investigate the effect of solar illumination on the number flux of ion outflow using data obtained by the Fast Auroral SnapshoT (FAST) satellite at 3000–4150 km altitude from 7 January 1998 to 5 February 1999. We derive empirical formulas between energy inputs and outflowing ion number fluxes for various solar zenith angle ranges. We found that the outflowing ion number flux under sunlit conditions increases more steeply with increasing electron density in the loss cone or with increasing precipitating electron density (> 50 eV), compared to the ion flux under dark conditions. Under ionospheric dark conditions, weak electron precipitation can drive ion outflow with small averaged fluxes (~ 107 cm−2 s−1). The slopes of relations between the Poynting fluxes and outflowing ion number fluxes show no clear dependence on the solar zenith angle. Intense ion outflow events (> 108 cm−2 s−1) occur mostly under sunlit conditions (solar zenith angle < 90°). Thus, it is presumably difficult to drive intense ion outflows under dark conditions, because of a lack of the solar illumination (low ionospheric density and/or small scale height owing to low plasma temperature).

    Graphical abstract

  5. Abstract In Earth’s low atmosphere, hurricanes are destructive due to their great size, strong spiral winds with shears, and intense rain/precipitation. However, disturbances resembling hurricanes have not been detected in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Here, we report a long-lasting space hurricane in the polar ionosphere and magnetosphere during low solar and otherwise low geomagnetic activity. This hurricane shows strong circular horizontal plasma flow with shears, a nearly zero-flow center, and a coincident cyclone-shaped aurora caused by strong electron precipitation associated with intense upward magnetic field-aligned currents. Near the center, precipitating electrons were substantially accelerated to ~10 keV. The hurricane imparted large energy and momentum deposition into the ionosphere despite otherwise extremely quiet conditions. The observations and simulations reveal that the space hurricane is generated by steady high-latitude lobe magnetic reconnection and current continuity during a several hour period of northward interplanetary magnetic field and very low solar wind density and speed.