Articles | Volume 26, issue 9
Ann. Geophys., 26, 2613–2630, 2008
Ann. Geophys., 26, 2613–2630, 2008

  08 Sep 2008

08 Sep 2008

Auroral current systems in Saturn's magnetosphere: comparison of theoretical models with Cassini and HST observations

S. W. H. Cowley1, C. S. Arridge2,3, E. J. Bunce1, J. T. Clarke4, A. J. Coates2,3, M. K. Dougherty5, J.-C. Gérard6, D. Grodent6, J. D. Nichols4, and D. L. Talboys1 S. W. H. Cowley et al.
  • 1Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
  • 2Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Dorking RH5 6NT, UK
  • 3Centre for Planetary Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  • 4Center for Space Physics, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
  • 5Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK
  • 6Laboratoire de Physique Atmosphérique et Planétaire, Université de Liège, Liège 4000, Belgium

Abstract. The first simultaneous observations of fields and plasmas in Saturn's high-latitude magnetosphere and UV images of the conjugate auroral oval were obtained by the Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in January 2007. These data have shown that the southern auroral oval near noon maps to the dayside cusp boundary between open and closed field lines, associated with a major layer of upward-directed field-aligned current (Bunce et al., 2008). The results thus support earlier theoretical discussion and quantitative modelling of magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling at Saturn (Cowley et al., 2004), that suggests the oval is produced by electron acceleration in the field-aligned current layer required by rotational flow shear between strongly sub-corotating flow on open field lines and near-corotating flow on closed field lines. Here we quantitatively compare these modelling results (the "CBO" model) with the Cassini-HST data set. The comparison shows good qualitative agreement between model and data, the principal difference being that the model currents are too small by factors of about five, as determined from the magnetic perturbations observed by Cassini. This is suggested to be principally indicative of a more highly conducting summer southern ionosphere than was assumed in the CBO model. A revised model is therefore proposed in which the height-integrated ionospheric Pedersen conductivity is increased by a factor of four from 1 to 4 mho, together with more minor adjustments to the co-latitude of the boundary, the flow shear across it, the width of the current layer, and the properties of the source electrons. It is shown that the revised model agrees well with the combined Cassini-HST data, requiring downward acceleration of outer magnetosphere electrons through a ~10 kV potential in the current layer at the open-closed field line boundary to produce an auroral oval of ~1° width with UV emission intensities of a few tens of kR.