Cluster observations of continuous reconnection at the magnetopause under steady interplanetary magnetic field conditions
- 1Space Science Laboratory, Berkeley, USA
- 2Rutherford Laboratory, Oxford, UK
- 3Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany
- 4Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Toulouse, France
- 5Imperial College, London, UK
- 6University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
Abstract. On 26 January 2001, the Cluster spacecraft detected high-speed plasma jets at multiple crossings of the high-latitude duskside magnetopause (MP) and boundary layer (BL) over a period of more than 2h. The 4 spacecraft combined spent more than half of this time in the MP/BL and jets were observed whenever a spacecraft was in the MP. These observations were made under steady southward and dawnward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) conditions. The magnetic shear across the local MP was ~100° and β~1 in the adjacent magnetosheath. The jet velocity is in remarkable agreement with reconnection prediction throughout the entire interval, except for one crossing that had no ion measurements inside the current layer. The flow speed measured in the deHoffmann Teller frame is 90% of the Alfvén speed on average for the 10 complete MP current layer crossings that are resolved by the ion measurements. These findings strongly suggest that reconnection was continuously active for more than two hours. The jets were directed persistently in the same northward and anti-sunward direction, implying that the X-line was always below the spacecraft. This feature is inconsistent with patchy and random reconnection or convecting multiple X-lines. The majority of MP/BL crossings in this two-hour interval were partial crossings, implying that they are caused by bulges sliding along the MP, not by inward-outward motion of a uniformly thin MP/BL. The presence of the bulges suggests that, although reconnection is continuously active under steady IMF conditions, its rate may be modulated. The present investigation also reveals that (1) the predicted ion D-shaped distributions are absent in all reconnection jets on this day, (2) the electric field fluctuations are larger in the reconnecting MP than in the magnetosheath proper, but their amplitudes never exceed 20mV/m, (3) the ion-electron differential motion is ~20km/s for the observed MP current density of ~50nA/m2 (∇× B), thus inconsequential for the deHoffmann-Teller and Walén analyses, (4) flows in an isolated flux transfer event (FTE) are directed in the same direction as the MP jets and satisfy the Walén relation, suggesting that this FTE is also generated by reconnection. Finally, the present event cannot be used to evaluate the validity of component or anti-parallel merging models because, although the magnetic shear at the local MP was ~100°(≪180°), the X-line may be located more than 9RE away (in the opposite hemisphere), where the shear could be substantially different.