Articles | Volume 23, issue 3
30 Mar 2005
 | 30 Mar 2005

Influence of the ionosphere on the altitude of discrete auroral arcs

C. S. Deehr, M. H. Rees, A. E. H. Belon, G. J. Romick, and D. Lummerzheim

Abstract. The altitude of the maximum luminosity of single, discrete auroral arcs was measured by photometric triangulation from two stations (College and Fort Yukon, Alaska) located 226km apart on nearly the same magnetic meridian. The average height of the evening aurora decreases smoothly with increasing solar depression angle (sda) from 160km near 12° sda to 100km after 18° sda. The average height remains constant until around 12° sda in the morning. This diurnal variation is similar to that of the electron density in the F region of the ionosphere. Thus, the behavior is consistent with the concept that the mean auroral electron energy increases as the ionospheric conductivity decreases due to ionospheric recombination in the evening twilight. However, the mean electron energy decreases in magnitude at dawn when the solar ionizing radiation returns and the electron density in the F region increases. The magnetospheric acceleration mechanism associated with discrete auroral arcs thus appears to be inversely proportional to the ionospheric conductivity, because the time variation of the acceleration mechanism coincides with the local F region electron density and not with any obvious magnetospheric process. Previous auroral altitude observations, using similar triangulation methods, showed that the altitude of discrete auroral arcs increases as a function of latitude. When these data are corrected for the twilight effect, the dependence of altitude on latitude disappears. Thus, the average altitude of discrete auroral arcs and, by inference the magnetospheric auroral electron acceleration mechanism, is significantly influenced by the initial ionospheric conductance.