Cluster observations of the substructure of a flux transfer event: analysis of high-time-resolution particle data
- 1UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, RH5 6NT, UK
- 2Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala, Sweden
- 3IRAP, CNRS/Université de Toulouse, Toulouse, France
- 4Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, London, UK
- *now at: Science and Robotic Exploration Directorate, European Space Agency, ESAC, Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain
Abstract. Flux transfer events (FTEs) are signatures of transient reconnection at the dayside magnetopause, transporting flux from the dayside of the magnetosphere into the magnetotail lobes. They have previously been observed to contain a combination of magnetosheath and magnetospheric plasma. On 12 February 2007, the four Cluster spacecraft were widely separated across the magnetopause and observed a crater-like FTE as they crossed the Earth's dayside magnetopause through its low-latitude boundary layer. The particle instruments on the Cluster spacecraft were in burst mode and returning data providing 3-D velocity distribution functions (VDFs) at 4 s resolution during the observation of this FTE. Moreover, the magnetic field observed during the event remained closely aligned with the spacecraft spin axis and thus we have been able to use these 3-D data to reconstruct nearly full pitch angle distributions of electrons and ions at high time resolution (up to 32 times faster than available from the normal mode data stream). These observations within the boundary layer and inside the core of the FTE show that both the interior and the surrounding structure of the FTE consist of multiple individual layers of plasma, in greater number than previously identified. Our observations show a cold plasma inside the core, a thin layer of antiparallel-moving electrons at the edge of FTE itself, and field-aligned ions with Alfvénic speeds at the trailing edge of the FTE. We discuss the plasma characteristics in these FTE layers, their possible relevance to the magnetopause reconnection processes and attempt to distinguish which of the various different FTE models may be relevant in this case. These data are particularly relevant given the impending launch of NASA's MMS mission, for which similar observations are expected to be more routine.