Near-Earth initiation of a terrestrial substorm

I. Jonathan Rae, Ian R. Mann, Vassilis Angelopoulos, Kyle R. Murphy, David K. Milling, Andy Kale, Harald U. Frey, Gordon Rostoker, Christopher T. Russell, Clare E. J. Watt, Mark J. Engebretson, Mark B. Moldwin, Stephen B. Mende, Howard J. Singer, Eric F. Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the characterization of the auroral substorm more than 40 years ago, controversy still surrounds the processes triggering substorm onset initiation. That stretching of the Earth's magnetotail following the addition of new nightside magnetic flux from dayside reconnection powers the substorm is well understood; the trigger for explosive energy release at substorm expansion phase onset is not. Using ground-based data sets with unprecedented combined spatial and temporal coverage, we report the discovery of new localized and contemporaneous magnetic wave and small azimuthal scale auroral signature of substorm onset. These local auroral arc undulations and magnetic field signatures rapidly evolve on second time scales for several minutes in advance of the release of the auroral surge. We also present evidence from a conjugate geosynchronous satellite of the concurrent magnetic onset in space as the onset of magnetic pulsations in the ionosphere, to within technique error. Throughout this time period, the more poleward arcs that correspond to the auroral oval which maps to the central plasma sheet remain undisturbed. There is good evidence that flows from the midtail crossing the plasma sheet can generate north-south auroral structures, yet no such auroral forms are seen in this event. Our observations present a severe challenge to the standard hypothesis that magnetic reconnection in stretched magnetotail fields triggers onset, indicating substorm expansion phase initiation occurs on field lines that are close to the Earth, as bounded by observations at geosynchronous orbit and in the conjugate ionosphere.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes


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