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  1. Abstract

    Onset of reconnection in the tail requires the current sheet thickness to be of the order of the ion thermal gyroradius or smaller. However, existing isotropic plasma models cannot explain the formation of such thin sheets at distances where the X‐lines are typically observed. Here we reproduce such thin and long sheets in particle‐in‐cell simulations using a new model of their equilibria with weakly anisotropic ion species assuming quasi‐adiabatic ion dynamics, which substantially modifies the current density. It is found that anisotropy/agyrotropy contributions to the force balance in such equilibria are comparable to the pressure gradient in spite of weak ion anisotropy. New equilibria whose current distributions are substantially overstretched compared to the magnetic field lines are found to be stable in spite of the fact that they are substantially longer than isotropic sheets with similar thickness.

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  2. Abstract

    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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. Abstract

    Mining of substorm magnetic field data reveals the formation of two X‐lines preceded by the flux accumulation at the tailward end of a thin current sheet (TCS). Three‐dimensional particle‐in‐cell simulations guided by these pre‐onset reconnection features are performed, taking also into account weak external driving, negative charging of TCS and domination of electrons as current carriers. Simulations reveal an interesting multiscale picture. On the global scale, they show the formation of two X‐lines, with stronger magnetic field variations and inhomogeneous electric fields found closer to Earth. The X‐line appearance is preceded by the formation of two diverging electron outflow regions embedded into a single diverging ion outflow pattern and transforming into faster electron‐scale reconnection jets after the onset. Distributions of the agyrotropy parameters suggest that reconnection is provided by ion and then electron demagnetization. The bulk flow and agyrotropy distributions are consistent with MMS observations.

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