Articles | Volume 29, issue 11
Regular paper
09 Nov 2011
Regular paper |  | 09 Nov 2011

Lower hybrid resonances stimulated by the four CLUSTER relaxation sounders deep inside the plasmasphere: observations and inferred plasma characteristics

S. Kougblénou, G. Lointier, P. M. E. Décréau, J.-G. Trotignon, J.-L. Rauch, X. Vallières, P. Canu, A. Masson, and J. Pickett

Abstract. The frequency range of the WHISPER relaxation sounder instrument on board CLUSTER, 4–80 kHz, has been chosen so as to encompass the electron gyro-frequency, Fce, and the electron plasma frequency, Fp, in most regions to be explored. Measurement of those frequencies, which are triggered as resonances by the sounder, provides a direct estimation of in situ fundamental plasma characteristics: electron density and magnetic field intensity. In the late mission phase, CLUSTER penetrated regions deep inside the plasmasphere where Fce and Fp are much higher than the upper frequency of the sounder's range. However, they are of the right order of magnitude as to place the lower hybrid frequency, Flh, in the 4–15 kHz band. This characteristic frequency, placed at a resonance of the medium, is triggered by the sounder's transmitter and shows up as an isolated peak in the received spectrum, not present in spectra of naturally occuring VLF waves. This paper illustrates, from analysis of case events, how measured Flh values give access to a plasma diagnostic novel of its kind. CLUSTER, travelling along its orbit, encounters favourable conditions where Fce is increasing and Fp decreasing, such that Fce/Fp increases from values below unity to values above unity. Measured Flh values thus give access, in turn, to the effective mass, Meff, indicative of plasma ion composition, and to the core plasmasphere electron density value, a parameter difficult to measure. The analysed case events indicate that the estimated quantities (Meff in the 1.0–1.4 range, Ne in the 5 × 102–104 cm−3 range) are varying with external factors (altitude, L value, geomagnetic activity) in a plausible way. Although covering only a restricted region (mid-latitude, low altitude inner plasmasphere), these measurements are available, since late 2009, for all CLUSTER perigee passes not affected by eclipses (on average, roughly a third of a total of ~200 passes per year) and offer multipoint observations previously unavailable in this region.