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Volume 29, issue 6
Ann. Geophys., 29, 1129-1135, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-29-1129-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: Dynamical processes in space plasmas

Ann. Geophys., 29, 1129-1135, 2011
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-29-1129-2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  25 Jun 2011

25 Jun 2011

The role of the bow shock in solar wind-magnetosphere coupling

R. E. Lopez1, V. G. Merkin2, and J. G. Lyon3 R. E. Lopez et al.
  • 1Department of Physics, The University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX, 76019, USA
  • 2The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD, 20723, USA
  • 3Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, 03755, USA

Abstract. In this paper we examine the role of the bow shock in coupling solar wind energy to the magnetosphere using global magnetohydrodynamic simulations of the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction with southward IMF. During typical solar wind conditions, there are two significant dynamo currents in the magnetospheric system, one in the high-latitude mantle region tailward of the cusp and the other in the bow shock. As the magnitude of the (southward) IMF increases and the solar wind becomes a low Mach number flow, there is a significant change in solar wind-magnetosphere coupling. The high-latitude magnetopause dynamo becomes insignificant compared to the bow shock and a large load appears right outside the magnetopause. This leaves the bow shock current as the only substantial dynamo current in the system, and the only place where a significant amount of mechanical energy is extracted from the solar wind. That energy appears primarily as electromagnetic energy, and the Poynting flux generated at the bow shock feeds energy back into the plasma, reaccelerating it to solar wind speeds. Some small fraction of that Poynting flux is directed into the magnetosphere, supplying the energy needed for magnetospheric dynamics. Thus during periods when the solar wind flow has a low Mach number, the main dynamo in the solar wind-magnetosphere system is the bow shock.

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