Azimuthal velocity shear within an Earthward fast flow – further evidence for magnetotail untwisting?
Abstract. It is well known that nonzero interplanetary magnetic field By conditions lead to a twisted magnetotail configuration. The plasma sheet is rotated around its axis and tail magnetic field lines are twisted, which causes an azimuthal displacement of their ionospheric footprints. According to the untwisting hypothesis, the untwisting of twisted field lines is suggested to influence the azimuthal direction of convective fast flows in the nightside geospace. However, there is a lack of in situ magnetospheric observations, which show actual signatures of the possible untwisting process. In this paper, we report detailed Cluster observations of an azimuthal flow shear across the neutral sheet associated with an Earthward fast flow on 5 September 2001. The observations show a flow shear velocity pattern with a V⊥y sign change, near the neutral sheet (Bx~0) within a fast flow during the neutral sheet flapping motion over the spacecraft. Firstly, this implies that convective fast flows may not generally be unidirectional across the neutral sheet, but may have a more complex structure. Secondly, in this event tail By and the flow shear are as expected by the untwisting hypothesis. The analysis of the flow shear reveals a linear dependence between Bx and V⊥y close to the neutral sheet and suggests that Cluster crossed the neutral sheet in the dawnward part of the fast flow channel. The magnetospheric observations are supported by the semi-empirical T96 and TF04 models. Furthermore, the ionospheric SuperDARN convection maps support the satellite observations proposing that the azimuthal component of the magnetospheric flows is enforced by a magnetic field untwisting. In summary, the observations give strong supportive evidence to the tail untwisting hypothesis. However, the T96 ionospheric mapping demonstrates the limitations of the model in mapping from a twisted tail.