Articles | Volume 24, issue 12
21 Dec 2006
 | 21 Dec 2006

On the structure of field-aligned currents in the mid-altitude cusp

A. Marchaudon, J.-C. Cerisier, J.-M. Bosqued, C. J. Owen, A. N. Fazakerley, and A. D. Lahiff

Abstract. We analyse two crossings of the polar cusp at mid-altitudes (≈4 RE) by Cluster in order to study the structure of field-aligned currents associated with the injection of magnetosheath plasma. The current density is deduced independently from magnetic field and from particle flux measurements. In both cases the data are carefully tested. Magnetic fluctuations are analysed by discriminating between those compatible with the plane current sheet hypothesis under which the current density can be calculated safely, and those resulting from filamentary current structures. At medium transverse scales (80 km), the structure of the currents is more often tube-like than sheet-like, and current sheets are not systematically elongated in the east-west direction. The total particle current is calculated from the electron and ion measurements. For electrons, the full energy range is taken into account, from above the photoelectron threshold up to 32 keV. Magnetosheath plasma injections are well correlated with pairs of field-aligned currents. In both cases, the parallel current is mainly carried by electrons while ions contribute for about 20%. In the plane current sheets, the ratio between magnetic and particle currents shows large variations between 0.4 and 1.1. These fluctuations can be explained by the convective motion of the current sheets.