On the occurrence and characteristics of intense low-altitude electric fields observed by Freja
Abstract. High-resolution measurements by the double probe electric field instrument on the Freja satellite are presented. The observations show that extremely intense (up to 1 V m–1) and fine-structured (<1 km) electric fields exist at auroral latitudes within the altitude regime explored by Freja (up to 1700 km). The intense field events typically occur within the early morning sector of the auroral oval (01–07 MLT) during times of geomagnetic activity. In contrast to the observations within the auroral acceleration region characterized by intense converging electric fields associated with electron precipitation, upward ion beams and upward field-aligned currents, the intense electric fields observed by Freja are often found to be diverging and located within regions of downward field-aligned currents outside the electron aurora. Moreover, the intense fields are observed in conjunction with precipitating and transversely energized ions of energies 0.5–1 keV and may play an important role in the ion heating. The observations suggest that the intense electric field events are associated with small-scale low-conductivity ionospheric regions void of auroral emissions such as east-west aligned dark filaments or vortex streets of black auroral curls located between or adjacent to auroral arcs within the morningside diffuse auroral region. We suggest that these intense fields also exist at ionospheric altitudes although no such observations have yet been made. This is possible since the height-integrated conductivity associated with the dark filaments may be as low as 0.1 S or less. In addition, Freja electric field data collected outside the auroral region are discussed with particular emphasis on subauroral electric fields which are observed within the 19–01 MLT sector between the equatorward edge of the auroral oval and the inner edge of the ring current.