Articles | Volume 22, issue 8
Ann. Geophys., 22, 3039–3054, 2004
Ann. Geophys., 22, 3039–3054, 2004

  07 Sep 2004

07 Sep 2004

The exterior cusp and its boundary with the magnetosheath: Cluster multi-event analysis

B. Lavraud1,*, T. D. Phan2, M. W. Dunlop3, M. G. G. G. T. Taylor4, P. J. Cargill5, J.-M. Bosqued1, I. Dandouras1, H. Rème1, J.-A. Sauvaud1, C. P. Escoubet6, A. Balogh5, and A. Fazakerley7 B. Lavraud et al.
  • 1Centre d’Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, Toulouse, France
  • 2Space Science Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, USA
  • 3Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Didcot, UK
  • 4Space and Atmospheric Sciences, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM, USA
  • 5Imperial College, London, UK
  • 6ESA/ESTEC, Noordwiijk, The Netherlands
  • 7Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Dorking, Surrey, UK
  • *now at: Space and Atmospheric Sciences, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM, USA

Abstract. We report on the observation of three high-altitude cusp crossings by the Cluster spacecraft under steady northward IMF conditions. The focus of this study is on the exterior cusp and its boundaries. At the poleward edge of the cusp, large downward jets are present; they are characterized by a dawn-dusk component of the convection velocity opposite to the IMF By direction and a gradual evolution (velocity filter effect) corresponding to an injection site located at the high-latitude magnetopause tailward of the cusp, with subsequent sunward convection. As one moves from the poleward edge into the exterior cusp proper, the plasma gradually becomes stagnant as the result of the mirroring and scattering of the aforementioned plasma flows. The existence of such a stagnant region (Stagnant Exterior Cusp: SEC) is found in all events studied here even when the IMF By is large and the clock angle is ~90°. The SEC-magnetosheath boundary appears as a spatial structure that has a normal component of the magnetic field pointing inward, in accordance with a probable connection between the region and the magnetosheath (with northward field). This boundary generally has a deHoffmann-Teller velocity that is slow and oriented sunward and downward, compatible with a discontinuity propagating from a location near the high-latitude magnetopause. Although the tangential stress balance is not always satisfied, the SEC-magnetosheath boundary is possibly a rotational discontinuity. Just outside this boundary, there exists a clear sub-Alfvénic plasma depletion layer (PDL). These results are all consistent with the existence of a nearly steady reconnection site at the high-latitude magnetopause tailward of the cusp. We suggest that the stability of the external discontinuity (and of the whole region) is maintained by the presence of the sub-Alfvénic PDL. However, examination of the electron data shows the presence of heated electrons propagating parallel to the magnetic field (upward) just outside of the SEC-magnetosheath boundary. This appears inconsistent with their source being the northern lobe reconnection site. Finally, the definition of the magnetopause at high latitudes is revisited. To define the SEC-magnetosheath boundary as the magnetopause would lead to the misnaming of the "exterior cusp".