Implications of the altitude of transient 630-nm dayside auroral emissions

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Lockwood, Mike ; Carlson, H. C. ; Sandholt, P. E. (1993)
  • Publisher: American Geophysical Union
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1029/93JA00811
  • Subject:
    arxiv: Astrophysics::High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena | Astrophysics::Earth and Planetary Astrophysics | Physics::Space Physics

The altitude from which transient 630-nm (“red line”) light is emitted in transient dayside auroral breakup events is discussed. Theoretically, the emissions should normally originate from approximately 250 to 550 km. Because the luminosity in dayside breakup events moves in a way that is consistent with newly opened field lines, they have been interpreted as the ionospheric signatures of transient reconnection at the dayside magnetopause. For this model the importance of these events for convection can be assessed from the rate of change of their area. The area derived from analysis of images from an all-sky camera and meridian scans from a photometer, however, depends on the square of the assumed emission altitude. From field line mapping, it is shown for both a westward and an eastward moving event, that the main 557.7-nm emission comes from the edge of the 630 nm transient, where a flux transfer event model would place the upward field-aligned current (on the poleward and equatorward edge, respectively). The observing geometry for the two cases presented is such that this is true, irrespective of the 630-nm emission altitude. From comparisons with the European incoherent scatter radar data for the westward (interplanetary magnetic field By > 0) event on January 12, 1988, the 630-nm emission appears to emanate from an altitude of 250 km, and to be accompanied by some 557.7-nm “green-line” emission. However, for a large, eastward moving event observed on January 9, 1989, there is evidence that the emission altitude is considerably greater and, in this case, the only 557.7-nm emission is that on the equatorward edge of the event, consistent with a higher altitude 630-nm excitation source. Assuming an emission altitude of 250 km for this event yields a reconnection voltage of >50 kV during the reconnection burst but a contribution to the convection voltage of >15 kV. However, from the motion of the event we infer that the luminosity peaks at an altitude in the range of 400 and 500 km, and for the top of this range the reconnection and average convection voltages would be increased to >200 kV and >60 kV, respectively. (These are all minimum estimates because the event extends in longitude beyond the field-of-view of the camera). Hence the higher-emission altitude has a highly significant implication, namely that the reconnection bursts which cause the dayside breakup events could explain most of the voltage placed across the magnetosphere and polar cap by the solar wind flow. Analysis of the plasma density and temperatures during the event on January 9, 1989, predicts the required thermal excitation of significant 630-nm intensities at altitudes of 400-500 km.
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