Remote sensing of a NTC radio source from a Cluster tilted spacecraft pair
Abstract. The Cluster mission operated a "tilt campaign" during the month of May 2008. Two of the four identical Cluster spacecraft were placed at a close distance (~50 km) from each other and the spin axis of one of the spacecraft pair was tilted by an angle of ~46°. This gave the opportunity, for the first time in space, to measure global characteristics of AC electric field, at the sensitivity available with long boom (88 m) antennas, simultaneously from the specific configuration of the tilted pair of satellites and from the available base of three satellites placed at a large characteristic separation (~1 RE). This paper describes how global characteristics of radio waves, in this case the configuration of the electric field polarization ellipse in 3-D-space, are identified from in situ measurements of spin modulation features by the tilted pair, validating a novel experimental concept. In the event selected for analysis, non-thermal continuum (NTC) waves in the 15–25 kHz frequency range are observed from the Cluster constellation placed above the polar cap. The observed intensity variations with spin angle are those of plane waves, with an electric field polarization close to circular, at an ellipticity ratio e = 0.87. We derive the source position in 3-D by two different methods. The first one uses ray path orientation (measured by the tilted pair) combined with spectral signature of magnetic field magnitude at source. The second one is obtained via triangulation from the three spacecraft baseline, using estimation of directivity angles under assumption of circular polarization. The two results are not compatible, placing sources widely apart. We present a general study of the level of systematic errors due to the assumption of circular polarization, linked to the second approach, and show how this approach can lead to poor triangulation and wrong source positioning. The estimation derived from the first method places the NTC source region in the dawn sector, at a large L value (L ~ 10) and a medium geomagnetic latitude (35° S). We discuss these untypical results within the frame of the geophysical conditions prevailing that day, i.e. a particularly quiet long time interval, followed by a short increase of magnetic activity.