First current density measurements in the ring current region using simultaneous multi-spacecraft CLUSTER-FGM data
Abstract. The inner magnetosphere's current mapping is one of the key elements for current loop closure inside the entire magnetosphere. A method for directly computing the current is the multi-spacecraft curlometer technique, which is based on the application of Maxwell-Ampère's law. This requires the use of four-point magnetic field high resolution measurements. The FGM experiment on board the four Cluster spacecraft allows, for the first time, an instantaneous calculation of the magnetic field gradients and thus a measurement of the local current density. This technique requires, however, a careful study concerning all the factors that can affect the accuracy of the J estimate, such as the tetrahedral geometry of the four spacecraft, or the size and orientation of the current structure sampled. The first part of this paper is thus providing a detailed analysis of the method accuracy, and points out the limitations of this technique in the region of interest. The second part is an analysis of the ring current region, which reveals, for the first time, the large latitudinal extent of the ring current, for all magnetic activity levels, as well as the latitudinal evolution of the perpendicular (and parallel) components of the current along the diffuse auroral zone. Our analysis also points out the sharp transition between two distinct plasma regions, with the existence of high diamagnetic currents at the interface, as well as the filamentation of the current inside the inner plasma sheet. A statistical study over multiple perigee passes of Cluster (at about 4 RE from the Earth) reveals the azimuthal extent of the partial ring current. It also reveals that, at these distances and all along the evening sector, there isn't necessarily a strong dependence of the local current density value on the magnetic activity level. This is a direct consequence of the ring current morphology evolution, as well as the relative positioning of the spacecraft with respect to the bulk of the ring current. It also proves the existence of a substantial ring current at these distances, all over the evening and the post-midnight sector.
Keywords. Magnetospheric physics (Current systems; Energetic particles, trapped; Magnetospheric configuration and dynamics)