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Volume 36, issue 5 | Copyright
Ann. Geophys., 36, 1183-1199, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Regular paper 10 Sep 2018

Regular paper | 10 Sep 2018

Fast plasma sheet flows and X line motion in the Earth's magnetotail: results from a global hybrid-Vlasov simulation

Liisa Juusola1,2, Sanni Hoilijoki3,2, Yann Pfau-Kempf2, Urs Ganse2, Riku Jarvinen1,4, Markus Battarbee2, Emilia Kilpua2, Lucile Turc2, and Minna Palmroth2,1 Liisa Juusola et al.
  • 1Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, Finland
  • 2Department of Physics, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  • 3Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 4Department of Electronics and Nanoengineering, School of Electrical Engineering, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland

Abstract. Fast plasma flows produced as outflow jets from reconnection sites or X lines are a key feature of the dynamics in the Earth's magnetosphere. We have used a polar plane simulation of the hybrid-Vlasov model Vlasiator, driven by steady southward interplanetary magnetic field and fast solar wind, to study fast plasma sheet ion flows and related magnetic field structures in the Earth's magnetotail. In the simulation, lobe reconnection starts to produce fast flows after the increasing pressure in the lobes has caused the plasma sheet to thin sufficiently. The characteristics of the earthward and tailward fast flows and embedded magnetic field structures produced by multi-point tail reconnection are in general agreement with spacecraft measurements reported in the literature. The structuring of the flows is caused by internal processes: interactions between major X points determine the earthward or tailward direction of the flow, while interactions between minor X points, associated with leading edges of magnetic islands carried by the flow, induce local minima and maxima in the flow speed. Earthward moving flows are stopped and diverted duskward in an oscillatory (bouncing) manner at the transition region between tail-like and dipolar magnetic fields. Increasing and decreasing dynamic pressure of the flows causes the transition region to shift earthward and tailward, respectively. The leading edge of the train of earthward flow bursts is associated with an earthward propagating dipolarization front, while the leading edge of the train of tailward flow bursts is associated with a tailward propagating plasmoid. The impact of the dipolarization front with the dipole field causes magnetic field variations in the Pi2 range. Major X points can move either earthward or tailward, although tailward motion is more common. They are generally not advected by the ambient flow. Instead, their velocity is better described by local parameters, such that an X point moves in the direction of increasing reconnection electric field strength. Our results indicate that ion kinetics might be sufficient to describe the behavior of plasma sheet bulk ion flows produced by tail reconnection in global near-Earth simulations.

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Short summary
The solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, forming a magnetosphere. On the night side solar wind stretches the magnetosphere into a long tail. A process called magnetic reconnection opens the magnetic field lines and reconnects them, accelerating particles to high energies. We study this in the magnetotail using a numerical simulation model of the Earth’s magnetosphere. We study the motion of the points where field lines reconnect and the fast flows driven by this process.
The solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field, forming a magnetosphere. On the...