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  1. Abstract

    Energetic (≳50 keV) electron precipitation from the magnetosphere to the ionosphere during substorms can be important for magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling. Using conjugate observations between the THEMIS, ELFIN, and DMSP spacecraft during a substorm, we have analyzed the energetic electron precipitation, the magnetospheric injection, and the associated plasma waves to examine the role of waves in pitch‐angle scattering plasma sheet electrons into the loss cone. During the substorm expansion phase, ELFIN‐A observed 50–300 keV electron precipitation from the plasma sheet that was likely driven by wave‐particle interactions. The identification of the low‐altitude extent of the plasma sheet from ELFIN is aided by DMSP global auroral images. Combining quasi‐linear theory, numerical test particle simulations, and equatorial THEMIS measurements of particles and fields, we have evaluated the relative importance of kinetic Alfvén waves (KAWs) and whistler‐mode waves in driving the observed precipitation. We find that the KAW‐driven bounce‐averaged pitch‐angle diffusion coefficientsnear the edge of the loss cone are ∼10−6–10−5s−1for these energetic electrons. Thedue to parallel whistler‐mode waves, observed at THEMIS ∼10‐min after the ELFIN observations, are ∼10−8–10−6s−1. Thus, at least in this case, the observed KAWs dominate over the observed whistler‐mode waves in the scattering and precipitation of energetic plasma sheet electrons during the substorm injection.

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  2. Abstract

    Electron diffusion by whistler‐mode chorus waves is one of the key processes controlling the dynamics of relativistic electron fluxes in the Earth's radiation belts. It is responsible for the acceleration of sub‐relativistic electrons injected from the plasma sheet to relativistic energies as well as for their precipitation and loss into the atmosphere. Based on analytical estimates of chorus wave‐driven quasi‐linear electron energy and pitch‐angle diffusion rates, we provide analytical steady‐state solutions to the corresponding Fokker‐Planck equation for the relativistic electron distribution and flux. The impact on these steady‐state solutions of additional electromagnetic ion cyclotron waves, and of ultralow frequency waves are examined. Such steady‐state solutions correspond to hard energy spectra at 1–4 MeV, dangerous for satellite electronics, and represent attractors for the system dynamics in the presence of sufficiently strong driving by continuous injections of 10–300 keV electrons. Therefore, these analytical steady‐state solutions provide a simple means for estimating the most extreme electron energy spectra potentially encountered in the outer radiation belt, despite the great variability of injections and plasma conditions. These analytical steady‐state solutions are compared with numerical simulations based on the full Fokker‐Planck equation and with relativistic electron flux spectra measured by satellites during one extreme event and three strong events of high time‐integrated geomagnetic activity, demonstrating a good agreement.

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  3. Abstract

    We review comprehensive observations of electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) wave-driven energetic electron precipitation using data collected by the energetic electron detector on the Electron Losses and Fields InvestigatioN (ELFIN) mission, two polar-orbiting low-altitude spinning CubeSats, measuring 50-5000 keV electrons with good pitch-angle and energy resolution. EMIC wave-driven precipitation exhibits a distinct signature in energy-spectrograms of the precipitating-to-trapped flux ratio: peaks at >0.5 MeV which are abrupt (bursty) (lasting ∼17 s, or$\Delta L\sim 0.56$ΔL0.56) with significant substructure (occasionally down to sub-second timescale). We attribute the bursty nature of the precipitation to the spatial extent and structuredness of the wave field at the equator. Multiple ELFIN passes over the same MLT sector allow us to study the spatial and temporal evolution of the EMIC wave - electron interaction region. Case studies employing conjugate ground-based or equatorial observations of the EMIC waves reveal that the energy of moderate and strong precipitation at ELFIN approximately agrees with theoretical expectations for cyclotron resonant interactions in a cold plasma. Using multiple years of ELFIN data uniformly distributed in local time, we assemble a statistical database of ∼50 events of strong EMIC wave-driven precipitation. Most reside at$L\sim 5-7$L57at dusk, while a smaller subset exists at$L\sim 8-12$L812at post-midnight. The energies of the peak-precipitation ratio and of the half-peak precipitation ratio (our proxy for the minimum resonance energy) exhibit an$L$L-shell dependence in good agreement with theoretical estimates based on prior statistical observations of EMIC wave power spectra. The precipitation ratio’s spectral shape for the most intense events has an exponential falloff away from the peak (i.e., on either side of$\sim 1.45$1.45MeV). It too agrees well with quasi-linear diffusion theory based on prior statistics of wave spectra. It should be noted though that this diffusive treatment likely includes effects from nonlinear resonant interactions (especially at high energies) and nonresonant effects from sharp wave packet edges (at low energies). Sub-MeV electron precipitation observed concurrently with strong EMIC wave-driven >1 MeV precipitation has a spectral shape that is consistent with efficient pitch-angle scattering down to ∼ 200-300 keV by much less intense higher frequency EMIC waves at dusk (where such waves are most frequent). At ∼100 keV, whistler-mode chorus may be implicated in concurrent precipitation. These results confirm the critical role of EMIC waves in driving relativistic electron losses. Nonlinear effects may abound and require further investigation.

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  4. Abstract

    Relativistic electron losses in Earth's radiation belts are usually attributed to electron resonant scattering by electromagnetic waves. One of the most important wave modes for such scattering is the electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) mode. Within the quasi‐linear diffusion framework, the cyclotron resonance of relativistic electrons with EMIC waves results in very fast electron precipitation to the atmosphere. However, wave intensities often exceed the threshold for nonlinear resonant interaction, and such intense EMIC waves have been shown to transport electrons away from the loss cone due to theforce bunchingeffect. In this study we investigate if this transport can block electron precipitation. We combine test particle simulations, low‐altitude observations of EMIC‐driven electron precipitation by the Electron Losses and Fields Investigations mission, and ground‐based EMIC observations. Comparing simulations and observations, we show that, despite the low pitch‐angle electrons being transported away from the loss cone, the scattering at higher pitch angles results in the loss cone filling and electron precipitation.

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  5. Abstract

    Electron resonant scattering by whistler‐mode waves is one of the most important mechanisms responsible for electron precipitation to the Earth's atmosphere. The temporal and spatial scales of such precipitation are dictated by properties of their wave source and background plasma characteristics, which control the efficiency of electron resonant scattering. We investigate these scales with measurements from the two low‐altitude Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) CubeSats that move practically along the same orbit, with along‐track separations ranging from seconds to tens of minutes. Conjunctions with the equatorial THEMIS mission are also used to aid our interpretation. We compare the variations in energetic electron precipitation at the sameL‐shells but on successive data collection orbit tracks by the two ELFIN satellites. Variations seen at the smallest inter‐satellite separations, those of less than a few seconds, are likely associated with whistler‐mode chorus elements or with the scale of chorus wave packets (0.1–1 s in time and ∼100 km in space at the equator). Variations between precipitationL‐shell profiles at intermediate inter‐satellite separations, a few seconds to about 1 min, are likely associated with whistler‐mode wave power modulations by ultra‐low frequency waves, that is, with the wave source region (from a few to tens of seconds to a few minutes in time and ∼1,000 km in space at the equator). During these two types of variations, consecutive crossings are associated with precipitationL‐shell profiles very similar to each other. Therefore the spatial and temporal variations at those scales do not change the net electron loss from the outer radiation belt. Variations at the largest range of inter‐satellite separations, several minutes to more than 10 min, are likely associated with mesoscale equatorial plasma structures that are affected by convection (at minutes to tens of minutes temporal variations and ≈[103, 104] km spatial scales). The latter type of variations results in appreciable changes in the precipitationL‐shell profiles and can significantly modify the net electron losses during successive tracks. Thus, such mesoscale variations should be included in simulations of the radiation belt dynamics.

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  6. Abstract

    Man‐made very low frequency (VLF) transmitter waves play a critical role in energetic electron scattering and precipitation from the inner radiation belt, a type of which is called wisp precipitation. Wisps exhibit dispersive energy‐versus‐Lspectra due to the evolution of electron cyclotron resonance conditions with near‐monochromatic VLF transmitter waves. Here, we report on such observations of inner belt wisp precipitation events with full pitch angle resolution in the energy range of 50 to ∼500 keV as measured by Electron Loss and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) atL < ∼2 between March 2021 and April 2022. Statistical observations (82 events) reveal occasional (18 events) wisp precipitation events with local bounce‐loss‐cone electron flux enhancements, which provide new information compared with flux enhancements measured in previous studies only in the drift loss cone. Based on magnetic field and plasmaspheric density models, quasilinear theory, and detailed pitch angle distributions of wisps from ELFIN, we have estimated the wisp electron bounce‐averaged pitch angle diffusion coefficients to be of the order of 10−4to 10−2 s−1. These are several orders of magnitude larger than the diffusion rates calculated from models using global statistical averages of VLF transmitter wave power. When using our estimated diffusion coefficients to deduce the associated local transmitter wave amplitudes near the equator, based on quasilinear calculations from a transmitter‐induced electron diffusion model, we find these wave amplitudes to be >1 mV/m. Although probable overestimates, such inferred wave amplitudes exceed the theoretical threshold amplitude for nonlinear interactions, strongly suggesting that it is necessary to include nonlinear effects for an accurate evaluation of energetic electron scattering by transmitter waves.

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  7. 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.

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  8. Abstract

    Energetic electron precipitation into Earth's atmosphere is an important process for radiation belt dynamics and magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling. The most intense form of such precipitation is microbursts—short‐lived bursts of precipitating fluxes detected on low‐altitude spacecraft. Due to the wide energy range of microbursts (from sub‐relativistic to relativistic energies) and their transient nature, they are thought to be predominantly associated with energetic electron scattering into the loss cone via cyclotron resonance with field‐aligned intense whistler‐mode chorus waves. In this study, we show that intense sub‐relativistic microbursts may be generated via electron nonlinear Landau resonance with very oblique whistler‐mode waves. We combine a theoretical model of nonlinear Landau resonance, equatorial observations of intense very oblique whistler‐mode waves, and conjugate low‐altitude observations of <200 keV electron precipitation. Based on model comparison with observed precipitation, we suggest that such sub‐relativistic microbursts occur by plasma sheet (0.1 − 10 keV) electron trapping in nonlinear Landau resonance, resulting in acceleration to ≲200 keV energies and simultaneous transport into the loss cone. The proposed scenario of intense sub‐relativistic (≲200 keV) microbursts demonstrates the importance of very oblique whistler‐mode waves for radiation belt dynamics.

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  9. Abstract

    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 Electron Loss and Fields Investigation (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 ∇Bdrifts 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.

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  10. Abstract

    The magnetospheric substorm is a key mode of flux and energy transport throughout the magnetosphere associated with distinct and repeatable magnetotail dynamical processes and plasma injections. The substorm growth phase is characterized by current sheet thinning and magnetic field reconfiguration around the equatorial plane. The global characteristics of current sheet thinning are important for understanding of magnetotail state right before the onset of magnetic reconnection and of the key substorm expansion phase. In this paper, we investigate this thinning at different radial distances using plasma sheet (PS) energetic (>50 keV) electrons that reach from the equator to low altitudes during their fast (∼1 s) travel along magnetic field lines. We perform a multi‐case study and a statistical analysis of 34 events with near‐equatorial observations of the current sheet thinning by equatorial missions and concurrent, latitudinal crossings of the ionospheric projection of the magnetotail by the low‐altitude Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) CubeSats at approximately the same local time sector. Energetic electron fluxes thus collected by ELFIN provide near‐instantaneous (<5 min duration) radial snapshots of magnetotail fluxes. Main findings of this study confirm the previously proposed concepts with low‐altitude energetic electron measurements: (a) Energy distributions of low‐altitude fluxes are quantitatively close to the near‐equatorial distributions, which justifies the investigation of the magnetotail current sheet reconfiguration using low‐altitude measurements. (b) The magnetic field reconfiguration during the current sheet thinning (which lasts ≥ an hour) results in a rapid shrinking of the low‐altitude projection of the entire PS (from near‐Earth, ∼10RE, to the lunar orbit ∼60RE) to 1–2° of magnetic latitude in the ionosphere. (c) The current sheet dipolarization, common during the substorm onset, is associated with a very quick (∼10 min) change of the tail magnetic field configuration to its dipolar state, as implied by a poleward expansion of the PSPS at low altitudes.

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