Timing mirror structures observed by Cluster with a magnetosheath flow model
Abstract. The evolution of structures associated with mirror modes during their flow in the Earth's magnetosheath is studied. The fact that the related magnetic fluctuations can take distinct shapes, from deep holes to high peaks, has been assessed in previous works on the observational, modeling and numerical points of view. In this paper we present an analytical model for the flow lines and velocity magnitude inside the magnetosheath. This model is used to interpret almost 10 years of Cluster observations of mirror structures: by back tracking each isolated observation to the shock, the "age", or flow time, of these structures is determined together with the geometry of the shock. Using this flow time the evolutionary path of the structures may be studied with respect to different quantities: the distance to mirror threshold, the amplitude of mirror fluctuations and the skewness of the magnetic amplitude distribution as a marker of the shape of the structures. These behaviours are confronted to numerical simulations which confirm the dynamical perspective gained from the association of the statistical analysis and the analytical model: magnetic peaks are mostly formed just behind the shock and are quickly overwhelmed by magnetic holes as the plasma conditions get more mirror stable. The amplitude of the fluctuations are found to saturate before the skewness vanishes, i.e. when both structures quantitatively balance each other, which typically occurs after a flow time of 100–200 s in the Earth's magnetosheath. Comparison with other astrophysical contexts is discussed.