Articles | Volume 17, issue 10
31 Oct 1999
31 Oct 1999

How does the U-shaped potential close above the acceleration region? A study using Polar data

P. Janhunen, A. Olsson, F. S. Mozer, and H. Laakso

Abstract. We present a statistical study of Polar electric field observations using auroral oval passes over Scandinavia above the acceleration region. We are especially interested in seeing whether we can find large perpendicular electric fields associated with an upward extended classical U-shaped potential drop for these passes, during which Polar is in the northern hemisphere usually at about 4 RE altitude. We also use Polar magnetic field data to infer the existence of a field-aligned current (FAC) and conjugate ground-based magnetometers (the IMAGE magnetometer network) to check whether the event is substorm-related or not. We find several events with a FAC but only weak perpendicular electric fields at Polar. In those rare cases where the Polar electric field was large, its direction was mostly found to be incompatible with the U-shaped potential model, or it was associated with disturbed conditions (substorms), where one cannot easily distinguish between inductive and static perpendicular electric fields. We found only two cases which are compatible with the upward extended U-shaped potential picture, and even in those cases the potential value is quite small (1-2 kV). To check the validity of the analysis method we also estimate the perpendicular electric field on the southern hemisphere, where Polar flies within or below the acceleration region, and we found a large number of inverted-V-type signatures as expected from previous studies. To explain the lack of perpendicular electric fields at high altitudes we suggest an O-shaped potential model instead of the U-shaped one.

Key words. Ionosphere (particle acceleration) · Magnetospheric physics (auroral phenomena; magnetosphere · ionosphere interactions)