Articles | Volume 27, issue 11
27 Nov 2009
 | 27 Nov 2009

THEMIS ground-space observations during the development of auroral spirals

A. Keiling, V. Angelopoulos, J. M. Weygand, O. Amm, E. Spanswick, E. Donovan, S. Mende, J. McFadden, D. Larson, K.-H. Glassmeier, and H. U. Auster

Abstract. A simultaneous observation of an auroral spiral and its generator region in the near-Earth plasma sheet is rather unlikely. Here we present such observations using the THEMIS spacecraft as well as the THEMIS ground network of all-sky imagers and magnetometers. Two consecutive auroral spirals separated by approximately 14 min occurred during a substorm on 19 February 2008. The spirals formed during the expansion phase and a subsequent intensification, and were among the brightest features in the aurora with diameters of 200–300 km. The duration for the formation and decay of each spiral was less than 60 s. Both spirals occurred shortly after the formation of two oppositely rotating plasma flow vortices in space, which were also accompanied by dipolarizations and ion injections, at ~11 RE geocentric distance. Observations and model calculations also give evidence for a magnetic-field-aligned current generation of approximately 0.1 MA via the flow vortices, connecting the generator region of the spirals with the ionosphere, during the formation of both spirals. In the ionosphere, a pair of equivalent ionospheric current (EIC) vortices with opposite rotations (corresponding to upward and downward currents) was present during both auroral spirals with enhanced EICs and ionospheric flows at the locations of the auroral spirals and along the auroral arcs. The combined ground and space observations suggest that each auroral spiral was powered by two oppositely rotating plasma flow vortices that caused a current enhancement in the substorm current wedge.