Articles | Volume 34, issue 5
Regular paper
10 May 2016
Regular paper |  | 10 May 2016

The dawn–dusk asymmetry of ion density in the dayside magnetosheath and its annual variability measured by THEMIS

Andrew P. Dimmock, Tuija I. Pulkkinen, Adnane Osmane, and Katariina Nykyri

Abstract. The local and global plasma properties in the magnetosheath play a fundamental role in regulating solar wind–magnetosphere coupling processes. However, the magnetosheath is a complex region to characterise as it has been shown theoretically, observationally and through simulations that plasma properties are inhomogeneous, non-isotropic and asymmetric about the Sun-Earth line. To complicate matters, dawn–dusk asymmetries are sensitive to various changes in the upstream conditions on an array of timescales. The present paper focuses exclusively on dawn–dusk asymmetries, in particularly that of ion density. We present a statistical study using THEMIS data of the dawn–dusk asymmetry of ion density in the dayside magnetosheath and its long-term variations between 2009 and 2015. Our data suggest that, in general, the dawn-side densities are higher, and the asymmetry grows from noon towards the terminator. This trend was only observed close to the magnetopause and not in the central magnetosheath. In addition, between 2009 and 2015, the largest asymmetry occurred around 2009 decreasing thereafter. We also concluded that no single parameter such as the Alfvén Mach number, plasma velocity, or the interplanetary magnetic field strength could exclusively account for the observed asymmetry. Interestingly, the dependence on Alfvén Mach number differed between data sets from different time periods. The asymmetry obtained in the THEMIS data set is consistent with previous studies, but the solar cycle dependence was opposite to an analysis based on IMP-8 data. We discuss the physical mechanisms for this asymmetry and its temporal variation. We also put the current results into context with the existing literature in order to relate THEMIS era measurements to those made during earlier solar cycles.

Short summary
Ion densities measured on the dawn-side magnetosheath flank were higher than the dusk-flank. The asymmetry was measured close to the magnetopause, but it became more ambiguous in the central magnetosheath. We show that the asymmetry was at its maximum at the 2009 solar minimum (~ 20 %), but then decreased in the rising stage of the next solar cycle (< 5 %). These results could impact plasma transport processes which are dependent on local magnetopause conditions such as Kelvin Helmholtz Instability.