Articles | Volume 24, issue 1
07 Mar 2006
 | 07 Mar 2006

Current-voltage and kinetic energy flux relations for relativistic field-aligned acceleration of auroral electrons

S. W. H. Cowley

Abstract. Recent spectroscopic observations of Jupiter's "main oval" auroras indicate that the primary auroral electron beam is routinely accelerated to energies of ~100 keV, and sometimes to several hundred keV, thus approaching the relativistic regime. This suggests the need to re-examine the classic non-relativistic theory of auroral electron acceleration by field-aligned electric fields first derived by Knight (1973), and to extend it to cover relativistic situations. In this paper we examine this problem for the case in which the source population is an isotropic Maxwellian, as also assumed by Knight, and derive exact analytic expressions for the field-aligned current density (number flux) and kinetic energy flux of the accelerated population, for arbitrary initial electron temperature, acceleration potential, and field strength beneath the acceleration region. We examine the limiting behaviours of these expressions, their regimes of validity, and their implications for auroral acceleration in planetary magnetospheres (and like astrophysical systems). In particular, we show that for relativistic accelerating potentials, the current density increases as the square of the minimum potential, rather than linearly as in the non-relativistic regime, while the kinetic energy flux then increases as the cube of the potential, rather than as the square.