Plasma Sheet Counterparts for Auroral Beads and Vortices in Advance of Fast Flows: New Evidence for Near‐Earth Substorm Onset

S. S. Babu*, I. R. Mann, E. F. Donovan, A. W. Smith, S. Dimitrakoudis, R. D. Sydora, A. Kale

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between auroral, ground, and plasma sheet signatures in the late growth phase is crucial for understanding the sequence of events during a substorm expansion phase onset. Here we show conjugate ground‐auroral‐satellite observations of a substorm that occurred on 18 September 2021, between 04:45 and 05:00 UT, where four auroral activations were detected in the all‐sky imagers. An initial activation showed the brightening of an equatorward arc within the cutoff of the 630 nm emissions, indicating activity on closed field lines well inside the open‐closed field line boundary (OCFLB). During a second activation, auroral beads were observed on a brightening arc, equatorward and within the OCFLB, followed by the transformation from small‐scale to large‐scale vortices. The tail current sheet was highly disturbed during the auroral vortex evolution, including pressure and magnetic disturbances, an apparent broadening of a previously thin current sheet, and a breakdown of the frozen‐in condition. Our observations clearly show late growth phase dynamics, including arc brightenings, the formation of auroral beads, and auroral vortex development, can occur well in advance of fast Earthward flows in the tail. Indeed, it is only during that later activity that auroral breakup and strong Earthward flows, which we associate with magnetic reconnection further down the tail, are observed together with strong magnetic bays on the ground. The sequence of events is consistent with an inside‐to‐outside model at substorm expansion phase onset, most likely via a shear‐flow ballooning instability in the transition region from dipole to tail‐like fields in the near‐Earth plasma sheet.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023JA031957
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number6
Early online date24 Jun 2024
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024

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