Articles | Volume 27, issue 8
12 Aug 2009
 | 12 Aug 2009

Search for an onset mechanism that operates for both CMEs and substorms

G. L. Siscoe, M. M. Kuznetsova, and J. Raeder

Abstract. Substorms and coronal mass ejections have been cited as the most accessible examples of the explosive energy conversion phenomenon that seems to characterize one of the behavior modes of cosmic plasmas. This paper addresses the question of whether these two examples – substorms and CMEs – support or otherwise the idea that explosive energy conversion is the result of a single process operating in different places and under different conditions. As a candidate mechanism that might be common to both substorms and CMEs we use the Forbes catastrophe model for CMEs because before testing it appears to have the potential, suitably modified, to operate also for substorms. The essence of the FCM is a sudden onset of an imbalance of the forces acting on an incipient CME. The imbalance of forces causes the CME to start to rise. Beneath the rising CME conditions develop that favor the onset of magnetic reconnection which then releases the CME and assists its expulsion. Thus the signature of the FCM is a temporally ordered sequence in which there is first the appearance of force imbalance which leads to upward (or outward) motion of the CME which leads to magnetic reconnection under it which expedites rapid expulsion. We look for the FCM signature in the output of two global magnetospheric MHD simulations that produce substorm-like events. We find the ordered sequence of events as stated but with a significant difference: there is no plasmoid prior to the onset of rapid reconnection, that is, there is no counterpart to the incipient CME on which an imbalance of forces acts to initiate the action in the FCM. If this result – that rapid tailward motion precedes the rapid reconnection of substorm expansion – is ultimately verified by other studies, it suggests that a description of the cause of substorm expansion should identify the cause of the preceding rapid tailward motion, since this leads necessarily to rapid reconnection, whatever the reconnection mechanism turns out to be. Clearly then, it is important to identify the cause of the preceding tailward motion.