Thin current sheets with strong bell-shape guide field: Cluster observations and models with beams
Abstract. We study the kinetic structure of intense ion-scale current sheets with strong electron currents and the guide field having a bell-shape profile. We consider four crossings of the Earth magnetotail current sheet by the Cluster mission in 2003. The thickness of these current sheets is about the ion inertial length and significantly smaller than the characteristic ion gyroradius. We analyze the asymmetry of the electron velocity distribution functions and show that the electron current is provided by the small electron subpopulation interpreted as an electron beam or two counter-streaming electron beams. The beam (counter-streaming beams) has a bulk velocity of the order of the electron thermal velocity and a density (difference of beam densities) of about 1–5% of the plasma density. To describe the observed current sheets we develop a kinetic model with particle beams. The model predicts different thickness of the current sheet for different types of current carriers (one electron beam or two counter-streaming electron beams). The observed ion-scale current sheets can be explained assuming that the current is carried by one electron beam and a co-streaming ion beam. Although the ion beam does not carry a significant current, this beam is required to balance the electron current perpendicular to the current sheet neutral plane. The developed model explains the dominance of the electron current and the ion scales of the current sheets.