The spatial scale and intensity of Earth’s magnetotail current sheet determine the magnetotail configuration, which is critical to one of the most energetically powerful phenomena in the Earth’s magnetosphere, substorms. In the absence of statistical information about plasma currents, theories of the magnetotail current sheets were mostly based on the isotropic stress balance. Such models suggest that thin current sheets cannot be long and should have strong plasma pressure gradients along the magnetotail. Using Magnetospheric Multiscale and THEMIS observations and global simulations, we explore realistic configuration of the magnetotail current sheet. We find that the magnetotail current sheet is thinner than expected from theories that assume isotropic stress balance. Observed plasma pressure gradients in thin current sheets are insufficiently strong (i.e., current sheets are too long) to balance the magnetic field line tension force. Therefore, pressure anisotropy is essential in the configuration of thin current sheets where instability precedes substorm onset.
Statistical and case studies, as well as data‐mining reconstructions suggest that the magnetotail current in the substorm growth phase has a multiscale structure with a thin ion‐scale current sheet embedded into a much thicker sheet. This multiscale structure may be critically important for the tail stability and onset conditions for magnetospheric substorms. The observed thin current sheets are found to be too long to be explained by the models with isotropic plasmas. At the same time, plasma observations reveal only weak field‐aligned anisotropy of the ion species, whereas the anisotropic electron contribution is insufficient to explain the force balance discrepancy. Here we elaborate a self‐consistent equilibrium theory of multiscale current sheets, which differs from conventional isotropic models by weak ion anisotropy outside the sheet and agyrotropy caused by quasi‐adiabatic ion orbits inside the sheet. It is shown that, in spite of weak anisotropy, the current density perturbation may be quite strong and localized on the scale of the figure‐of‐eight ion orbits. The magnetic field, current and plasma density in the limit of weak field‐aligned ion anisotropy and strong current sheet embedding, when the ion scale thin current sheet is nested in a much thicker Harris‐like current sheet, are investigated and presented in an analytical form making it possible to describe the multiscale equilibrium in sharply stretched 2D magnetic field configurations and to use it in kinetic simulations and stability analysis.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
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- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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