Cluster observations of flux rope structures in the near-tail
Abstract. An investigation of the 2003 Cluster tail season has revealed small flux ropes in the near-tail plasma sheet of Earth. These flux ropes manifest themselves as a bipolar magnetic field signature (usually predominantly in the Z-component) associated with a strong transient peak in one or more of the other components (usually the Y-component). These signatures are interpreted as the passage of a cylindrical magnetic structure with a strong axial magnetic field over the spacecraft position. On the 2 October 2003 all four Cluster spacecraft observed a flux rope in the plasma sheet at X (GSM) ~-17 RE. The flux rope was travelling Earthward and duskward at ~160 kms-1, as determined from multi-spacecraft timing. This is consistent with the observed south-then-north bipolar BZ signature and corresponds to a size of ~0.3 RE (a lower estimate, measuring between the inflection points of the bipolar signature). The axis direction, determined from multi-spacecraft timing and the direction of the strong core field, was close to the intermediate variance direction of the magnetic field. The current inside the flux rope, determined from the curlometer technique, was predominantly parallel to the magnetic field. However, throughout the flux rope, but more significant in the outer sections, a non-zero component of current perpendicular to the magnetic field existed. This shows that the flux rope was not in a "constant α" force-free configuration, i.e. the magnetic force, J×B was also non-zero. In the variance frame of the magnetic field, the components of J×B suggest that the magnetic pressure force was acting to expand the flux rope, i.e. directed away from the centre of the flux rope, whereas the smaller magnetic tension force was acting to compress the flux rope. The plasma pressure is reduced inside the flux rope. A simple estimate of the total force acting on the flux rope from the magnetic forces and surrounding plasma suggests that the flux rope was experiencing an expansive total force.
On 13 August 2003 all four Cluster spacecraft observed a flux rope at X (GSM) ~-18 RE. This flux rope was travelling tailward at 200 kms-1, consistent with the observed north-then-south bipolar BZ signature. The bipolar signature corresponds to a size of ~0.3 RE (lower estimate). In this case, the axis, determined from multi-spacecraft timing and the direction of the strong core field, was directed close to the maximum variance direction of the magnetic field. The current had components both parallel and perpendicular to the magnetic field, and J×B was again larger in the outer sections of the flux rope than in the centre. This flux rope was also under expansive magnetic pressure forces from J×B, i.e. directed away from the centre of the flux rope, and had a reduced plasma pressure inside the flux rope. A simple total force calculation suggests that this flux rope was experiencing a large expansive total force.
The observations of a larger J×B signature in the outer sections of the flux ropes when compared to the centre may be explained if the flux ropes are observed at an intermediate stage of their evolution after creation by reconnection at multiple X lines near the Cluster apogee. It is suggested that these flux ropes are in the process of relaxing towards the force-free like configuration often observed further down the tail. The centre of the flux ropes may contain older reconnected flux at a later evolutionary stage and may therefore be more force-free.