Articles | Volume 27, issue 5
08 May 2009
 | 08 May 2009

Observational evidence for an inside-out substorm onset scenario

M. G. Henderson

Abstract. We present observations which provide strong support for a substorm expansion phase onset scenario in which a localized inner magnetospheric instability developed first and was later followed by the development of a Near Earth Neutral Line (NENL) farther down-tail. Specifically, we find that the onset began as a localized brightening of an intensified growth phase arc which developed as a periodic series of arc-aligned (i.e. azimuthally arrayed) bright spots. As the disturbance grew, it evolved into vortical structures that propagated poleward and eventually morphed into an east-west aligned arc system at the poleward edge of the auroral substorm bulge. The evolution of the auroral intensity is consistent with an exponential growth with an e-folding time of around 188 s (corresponding to a linear growth rate, γ of 5.33×10−3 s−1). During the initial breakup, no obvious distortions of auroral forms to the north were observed. However, during the expansion phase, intensifications of the poleward boundary of the expanding bulge were observed together with the equatorward ejection of auroral streamers into the bulge. A strong particle injection was observed at geosynchronous orbit, but was delayed by several minutes relative to onset. Ground magnetometer data also shows a two phase development of mid-latitude positive H-bays, with a quasi-linear increase in H between the onset and the injection. We conclude that this event provides strong evidence in favor of the so-called "inside-out" substorm onset scenario in which the near Earth region activates first followed at a later time by the formation of a near-to-mid tail substorm X-line. The ballooning instability is discussed as a likely mechanism for the initial onset.