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Creators/Authors contains: "Zhang, Xiao-Jia"

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  1. Abstract

    The two most important wave modes responsible for energetic electron scattering to the Earth's ionosphere are electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves and whistler‐mode waves. These wave modes operate in different energy ranges: whistler‐mode waves are mostly effective in scattering sub‐relativistic electrons, whereas EMIC waves predominately scatter relativistic electrons. In this study, we report the direct observations of energetic electron (from 50 keV to 2.5 MeV) scattering driven by the combined effect of whistler‐mode and EMIC waves using ELFIN measurements. We analyze five events showing EMIC‐driven relativistic electron precipitation accompanied by bursts of whistler‐driven precipitation over a wide energy range. These events reveal an enhancement of relativistic electron precipitation by EMIC waves during intervals of whistler‐mode precipitation compared to intervals of EMIC‐only precipitation. We discuss a possible mechanism responsible for such precipitation. We suggest that below the minimum resonance energy (Emin) of EMIC waves, the whistler‐mode wave may both scatter electrons into the loss‐cone and accelerate them to higher energy (1–3 MeV). Electrons accelerated aboveEminresonate with EMIC waves that, in turn, quickly scatter those electrons into the loss‐cone. This enhances relativistic electron precipitation beyond what EMIC waves alone could achieve. We present theoretical support for this mechanism, along with observational evidence from the ELFIN mission. We discuss methodologies for further observational investigations of this combined whistler‐mode and EMIC precipitation.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    We statistically evaluate the global distribution and energy spectrum of electron precipitation at low‐Earth‐orbit, using unprecedented pitch‐angle and energy resolved data from the Electron Losses and Fields INvestigation CubeSats. Our statistical results indicate that during active conditions, the ∼63 keV electron precipitation ratio peaks atL > 6 at midnight, whereas the spatial distribution of precipitating energy flux peaks between the dawn and noon sectors. ∼1 MeV electron precipitation ratio peaks near midnight atL > ∼6 but is enhanced near dusk during active times. The energy spectrum of the precipitation ratio shows reversal points indicating energy dispersion as a function ofLshell in both the slot region and atL > ∼6, consistent with hiss‐driven precipitation and current sheet scattering, respectively. Our findings provide accurate quantification of electron precipitation at various energies in a broad region of the Earth's magnetosphere, which is critical for magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 28, 2025
  3. Abstract

    Energetic electron losses by pitch‐angle scattering and precipitation to the atmosphere from the radiation belts are controlled, to a great extent, by resonant wave particle interactions with whistler‐mode waves. The efficacy of such precipitation is primarily modulated by wave intensity, although its relative importance, compared to other wave and plasma parameters, remains unclear. Precipitation spectra from the low‐altitude, polar‐orbiting ELFIN mission have previously been demonstrated to be consistent with energetic precipitation modeling derived from empirical models of field‐aligned wave power across a wide swath of local‐time sectors. However, such modeling could not explain the intense, relativistic electron precipitation observed on the nightside. Therefore, this study aims to additionally consider the contributions of three modifications—wave obliquity, frequency spectrum, and local plasma density—to explain this discrepancy on the nightside. By incorporating these effects into both test particle simulations and quasi‐linear diffusion modeling, we find that realistic implementations of each individual modification result in only slight changes to the electron precipitation spectrum. However, these modifications, when combined, enable more accurate modeling of ELFIN‐observed spectra. In particular, a significant reduction in plasma density enables lower frequency waves, oblique, or even quasi field‐aligned waves to resonate with near ∼1 MeV electrons closer to the equator. We demonstrate that the levels of modification required to accurately reproduce the nightside spectra of whistler‐mode wave‐driven relativistic electron precipitation match empirical expectations and should therefore be included in future radiation belt modeling.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  4. Electron-acoustic waves (EAWs) as well as electron-acoustic solitary structures play a crucial role in thermalization and acceleration of electron populations in Earth's magnetosphere. These waves are often observed in association with whistler-mode waves, but the detailed mechanism of EAW and whistler wave coupling is not yet revealed. We investigate the excitation mechanism of EAWs and their potential relation to whistler waves using particle-in-cell simulations. Whistler waves are first excited by electrons with a temperature anisotropy perpendicular to the background magnetic field. Electrons trapped by these whistler waves through nonlinear Landau resonance form localized field-aligned beams, which subsequently excite EAWs. By comparing the growth rate of EAWs and the phase mixing rate of trapped electron beams, we obtain the critical condition for EAW excitation, which is consistent with our simulation results across a wide region in parameter space. These results are expected to be useful in the interpretation of concurrent observations of whistler-mode waves and nonlinear solitary structures and may also have important implications for investigation of cross-scale energy transfer in the near-Earth space environment.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2025
  5. Abstract

    Shock waves are sites of intense plasma heating and charged particle acceleration. In collisionless solar wind plasmas, such acceleration is attributed to shock drift or Fermi acceleration but also to wave–particle resonant interactions. We examine the latter for the case of electrons interacting with one of the most commonly observed wave modes in shock environments, the whistler mode. Such waves are particularly intense in dynamic, localized regions upstream of shocks, arising from the kinetic interaction of the shock with solar wind discontinuities. These regions, known as foreshock transients, are also sites of significant electron acceleration by mechanisms not fully understood. Using in situ observations of such transients in the Earth’s foreshock, we demonstrate that intense whistler-mode waves can resonate nonlinearly with >25 eV solar wind electrons and accelerate them to ∼100–500 eV. This acceleration is mostly effective for the 50–250 eV energy range, where the accelerated electron population exhibits a characteristic butterfly pitch-angle distribution consistent with theoretical predictions. Such nonlinear resonant acceleration is very fast, implying that this mechanism may be important for injecting suprathermal electrons of solar wind origin into the shock region, where they can undergo further, efficient shock-drift acceleration to even higher energies.

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  6. Abstract

    Electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves are a key plasma mode affecting radiation belt dynamics. These waves are important for relativistic electron losses through scattering and precipitation into Earth's ionosphere. Although theoretical models of such resonant scattering predict a low‐energy cut‐off of ∼1 MeV for precipitating electrons, observations from low‐altitude spacecraft often show simultaneous relativistic and sub‐relativistic electron precipitation associated with EMIC waves. Recently, nonresonant electron scattering by EMIC waves has been proposed as a possible solution to the above discrepancy. We employ this model and a large database of EMIC waves to develop a universal treatment of electron interactions with EMIC waves, including nonresonant effects. We use the Green's function approach to generalize EMIC diffusion rates foregoing the need to modify existing codes or recompute empirical wave databases. Comparison with observations from the electron losses and fields investigation mission demonstrates the efficacy of the proposed method for explaining sub‐relativistic electron losses by EMIC waves.

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  7. Abstract

    Electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves can very rapidly and effectively scatter relativistic electrons into the atmosphere. EMIC‐driven precipitation bursts can be detected by low‐altitude spacecraft, and analysis of the fine structure of such bursts may reveal unique information about the near‐equatorial EMIC source region. In this study, we report, for the first time, observations of EMIC‐driven electron precipitation exhibiting energy,E, dispersion as a function of latitude (and henceL‐shell): two predominant categories exhibitdE/dL > 0 anddE/dL < 0. We interpret precipitation withdE/dL < 0 as due to the typical inward radial gradient of cold plasma density and equatorial magnetic field (∼65% of the statistics). Precipitation withdE/dL > 0 is interpreted as due to an outward radial gradient of the equatorial magnetic field, likely produced by energetic ions freshly injected into the ring current (∼35% of the statistics). The observed energy dispersion of EMIC‐driven electron precipitation was reproduced in simulations.

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  8. Accepted, not yet published 
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  9. Abstract

    Thermalization and heating of plasma flows at shocks result in unstable charged-particle distributions that generate a wide range of electromagnetic waves. These waves, in turn, can further accelerate and scatter energetic particles. Thus, the properties of the waves and their implication for wave−particle interactions are critically important for modeling energetic particle dynamics in shock environments. Whistler-mode waves, excited by the electron heat flux or a temperature anisotropy, arise naturally near shocks and foreshock transients. As a result, they can often interact with suprathermal electrons. The low background magnetic field typical at the core of such transients and the large wave amplitudes may cause such interactions to enter the nonlinear regime. In this study, we present a statistical characterization of whistler-mode waves at foreshock transients around Earth’s bow shock, as they are observed under a wide range of upstream conditions. We find that a significant portion of them are sufficiently intense and coherent (narrowband) to warrant nonlinear treatment. Copious observations of background magnetic field gradients and intense whistler wave amplitudes suggest that phase trapping, a very effective mechanism for electron acceleration in inhomogeneous plasmas, may be the cause. We discuss the implications of our findings for electron acceleration in planetary and astrophysical shock environments.

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