Space Science Reviews

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 217–275

Plasma populations in a simple open model magnetosphere


  • S. W. H. Cowley
    • Blackett LaboratoryImperial College

DOI: 10.1007/BF00167825

Cite this article as:
Cowley, S.W.H. Space Sci Rev (1980) 26: 217. doi:10.1007/BF00167825


The acceleration of charged particles in the magnetic current sheets downstream from magnetic neutral lines is discussed and related to the plasma populations expected to be formed in a simple open model magnetosphere. A simple model of plasma acceleration in the dayside current sheet is set up, and it is shown that magnetospheric particles may take up a considerable fraction of the electromagnetic energy dissipated in the sheet even though they may represent only a small fraction of the total particle influx. The process should result in energetic ring current and ionospheric particles being found in boundary layers on either side of the magnetopause, and accelerated ionospheric particles in the plasma mantle. Acceleration of magnetosheath plasma in the dayside current sheet should result in enhanced flow speeds in these boundary layers, but the process may amount to little more than a return to the sheath plasma of energy previously extracted from it during its inflow on the dayside and stored in the compressed sheath field, due to the appreciable energy take-up from the current sheet by magnetospheric particles. The energy separation between ionospheric plasma and magnetosheath plasma on cusp field lines is shown to result in a spatial separation of polar wind and plasma mantle populations in the tail, the polar wind ions usually reaching out to only a few tens of RE down-tail such that they usually remain on closed field lines, forming a wedge-shaped region within the mantle shadow-zone. Polar wind ions are then convected back towards the Earth and thus their major sink is via the dayside current sheet rather than outflow into the tail. The major source for the plasmasheet depends upon the location of the neutral line, but mantle ions may usually be dominant. However, with a near-Earth neutral line during disturbed periods ionospheric plasma will be the sole ring-current source. Under usual conditions with a more distant neutral line the spatial separation of the two plasma sources in the tail may result in an energy separation in the inner ring current, with ionospheric particles dominant up to ∼2 to 20 keV and mantle ions dominant at higher energies. Formation of the plasmasheet is discussed, and it is shown that a layer of ions unidirectionally streaming towards the Earth should be formed on its outer boundary, due to current sheet acceleration of lobe particles and inward convection of the field lines. A similar process leads to earthward flows on the inner layer of the dayside cusp. Finally, the region tailward of the nightside neutral line is discussed and it is shown that a thin tailward flowing two-stream plasma band should be formed across the centre plane of the tail. The slow-speed stream corresponds to incoming lobe ions, the faster stream to the current sheet accelerated ions.

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© D. Reidel Publishing Co 1980