Articles | Volume 26, issue 6
11 Jun 2008
 | 11 Jun 2008

A physical mechanism producing suprathermal populations and initiating substorms in the Earth's magnetotail

D. V. Sarafopoulos

Abstract. We suggest a candidate physical mechanism, combining there dimensional structure and temporal development, which is potentially able to produce suprathermal populations and cross-tail current disruptions in the Earth's plasma sheet. At the core of the proposed process is the "akis" structure; in a thin current sheet (TCS) the stretched (tail-like) magnetic field lines locally terminate into a sharp tip around the tail midplane. At this sharp tip of the TCS, ions become non-adiabatic, while a percentage of electrons are accumulated and trapped: The strong and transient electrostatic electric fields established along the magnetic field lines produce suprathermal populations. In parallel, the tip structure is associated with field aligned and mutually attracted parallel filamentary currents which progressively become more intense and inevitably the structure collapses, and so does the local TCS. The mechanism is observationally based on elementary, almost autonomous and spatiotemporal entities that correspond each to a local thinning/dipolarization pair having duration of ~1 min. Energetic proton and electron populations do not occur simultaneously, and we infer that they are separately accelerated at local thinnings and dipolarizations, respectively. In one example energetic particles are accelerated without any dB/dt variation and before the substorm expansion phase onset. A particular effort is undertaken demonstrating that the proposed acceleration mechanism may explain the plasma sheet ratio Ti/Te≈7. All our inferences are checked by the highest resolution datasets obtained by the Geotail Energetic Particles and Ion Composition (EPIC) instrument. The energetic particles are used as the best diagnostics for the accelerating source. Near Earth (X≈10 RE) selected events support our basic concept. The proposed mechanism seems to reveal a fundamental building block of the substorm phenomenon and may be the basic process/structure, which is now missing, that might help explain the persistent, outstanding deficiencies in our physical description of magnetospheric substorms. The mechanism is tested, checked, and found consistent with substorm associated observations performed ~30 and 60 RE away from Earth.