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  1. Abstract Large-scale disturbances generated by the Sun’s dynamics first propagate through the heliosphere, influence the heliosphere’s outer boundaries, and then traverse and modify the very local interstellar medium (VLISM). The existence of shocks in the VLISM was initially suggested by Voyager observations of the 2-3 kHz radio emissions in the heliosphere. A couple of decades later, both Voyagers crossed the definitive edge of our heliosphere and became the first ever spacecraft to sample interstellar space. Since Voyager 1’s entrance into the VLISM, it sampled electron plasma oscillation events that indirectly measure the medium’s density, increasing as it moves further away from the heliopause. Some of the observed electron oscillation events in the VLISM were associated with the local heliospheric shock waves. The observed VLISM shocks were very different than heliospheric shocks. They were very weak and broad, and the usual dissipation via wave-particle interactions could not explain their structure. Estimates of the dissipation associated with the collisionality show that collisions can determine the VLISM shock structure. According to theory and models, the existence of a bow shock or wave in front of our heliosphere is still an open question as there are no direct observations yet. This paper reviews the outstandingmore »observations recently made by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, and our current understanding of the properties of shocks/waves in the VLISM. We present some of the most exciting open questions related to the VLISM and shock waves that should be addressed in the future.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2023
  2. Electrons in earth's magnetotail are energized significantly both in the form of heating and in the form of acceleration to non-thermal energies. While magnetic reconnection is considered to play an important role in this energization, it still remains unclear how electrons are energized and how energy is partitioned between thermal and non-thermal components. Here, we show, based on in situ observations by NASA's magnetospheric multiscale mission combined with multi-component spectral fitting methods, that the average electron energy [Formula: see text] (or equivalently temperature) is substantially higher when the locally averaged electric field magnitude [Formula: see text] is also higher. While this result is consistent with the classification of “plasma-sheet” and “tail-lobe” reconnection during which reconnection is considered to occur on closed and open magnetic field lines, respectively, it further suggests that a stochastic Fermi acceleration in 3D, reconnection-driven turbulence is essential for the production and confinement of energetic electrons in the reconnection region. The puzzle is that the non-thermal power-law component can be quite small even when the electric field is large and the bulk population is significantly heated. The fraction of non-thermal electron energies varies from sample to sample between ∼20% and ∼60%, regardless of the electric field magnitude.more »Interestingly, these values of non-thermal fractions are similar to those obtained for the above-the-looptop hard x-ray coronal sources for solar flares.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  3. 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
  4. Magnetic reconnection is an energy conversion process that occurs in many astrophysical contexts including Earth’s magnetosphere, where the process can be investigated in situ by spacecraft. On 11 July 2017, the four Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft encountered a reconnection site in Earth’s magnetotail, where reconnection involves symmetric inflow conditions. The electron-scale plasma measurements revealed (i) super-Alfvénic electron jets reaching 15,000 kilometers per second; (ii) electron meandering motion and acceleration by the electric field, producing multiple crescent-shaped structures in the velocity distributions; and (iii) the spatial dimensions of the electron diffusion region with an aspect ratio of 0.1 to 0.2, consistent with fast reconnection. The well-structured multiple layers of electron populations indicate that the dominant electron dynamics are mostly laminar, despite the presence of turbulence near the reconnection site.