Observations of plasmas and magnetic fields in Earth's distant magnetotail: Comparison with a global MHD model

L. A. Frank, M. Ashour-Abdalla, J. Berchem, J. Raeder, W. R. Paterson, S. Kokubun, T. Yamamoto, R. P. Lepping, F. V. Coroniti, D. H. Fairfield, and K. L. Ackerson

Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Iowa, Iowa City


We are reporting the first direct comparison of in situ observations of plasmas and magnetic fields in Earth's distant magnetotail with the results of a time-dependent, global magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulation of the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere. The magnetotail observations were taken with the Geotail spacecraft during the period 0300-0630 UT on October 27, 1992 at a position near the dawnside magnetopause at a downstream distance of about 81 RE. During this period a dense, cold ion stream similar in density and speed to that expected for the magnetosheath plasmas was intermittently observed. When the cold ion stream was not present, the spacecraft was located in the northern magnetotail lobe. The dense, cold ion stream differed from that expected for the magnetosheath in the Y and Z components of ion bulk flow and in the Y component of the magnetic field. These cold ion streams are associated with a magnetopause accommodation region positioned just outside the classical magnetopause, as identified by a well-defined transition from magnetic fields typical of those found in the lobe to the lesser and more fluctuating fields in the magnetosheath. This accommodation region exhibits perturbations in plasma flows and magnetic fields that appear to be related to the complex topology of the magnetopause at these large downstream positions. Simultaneous observations of the solar wind ions and the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) with the IMP8 spacecraft upstream from Earth provided the driving input for a global MHD model. The solar wind ion flow was steady during this period, and the IMF exhibited a series of rotations from northward to duskward. The dynamics of the magnetotail were controlled by the Y and Z components of the IMF. When the By was strongly positive, the magnetotail lobe appeared at the downstream Geotail position. Examination of the modeled plasma parameters in the Y-Z plane through the spacecraft position shows that this By provides a torque on the magnetotail about its central axis. The MHD model also accurately positions the spacecraft alternately in the magnetopause accommodation region and the magnetotail lobe as the IMF clock angle varied from northward to duskward, respectively. The temporal variations of modeled parameters, i.e., ion densities, temperatures, and bulk flow velocities and the magnetic field components, are directly compared with the Geotail measurements. This first comparison of the Geotail observations with the modeled plasma parameters and magnetic fields provides substantial encouragement that a global MHD model can provide a valid description of important aspects of the large-scale topology and dynamics of the magnetotail.

J. Geophys. Res., 100, 19,177-19,190, 1995