Articles | Volume 28, issue 2
23 Feb 2010
 | 23 Feb 2010

Auroral and sub-auroral phenomena: an electrostatic picture

J. De Keyser and M. Echim

Abstract. Many auroral and sub-auroral phenomena are manifestations of an underlying magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling. In the electrostatic perspective the associated auroral current circuit describes how the generator (often in the magnetosphere) is connected to the load (often in the ionosphere) through field-aligned currents. The present paper examines the generic properties of the current continuity equation that characterizes the auroral circuit. The physical role of the various elements of the current circuit is illustrated by considering a number of magnetospheric configurations, various auroral current-voltage relations, and different types of behaviour of the ionospheric conductivity. Based on realistic assumptions concerning the current-voltage relation and the ionospheric conductivity, a comprehensive picture of auroral and sub-auroral phenomena is presented, including diffuse aurora, discrete auroral arcs, black aurora, and subauroral ion drift. The electrostatic picture of field-aligned potential differences, field-aligned currents, ionospheric electric fields and plasma drift, and spatial scales for all these phenomena is in qualitative agreement with observations.