A comparison of a model for the theta aurora with observations from Polar, Wind and SuperDARN

S. -W. Chang, J. D. Scudder, J. B. Sigwarth, L. A. Frank, N. C. Maynard, W. J. Burke, W. K. Peterson, E. G. Shelley, R. Friedel, J. B. Blake, R. A. Greenwald, R. P. Lepping, G. J. Sofko, J. -P. Villain, and M. Lester

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


A model is presented according to which theta auroral arcs form after southward turnings of interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) and/or large variations in IMF By, following prolonged periods of northward IMF or very small Bz, with |By| / |Bz|. The arcs start on the dawnside (duskside) of the auroral oval and drift duskward (dawnward) across the polar cap for positive (negative) By in the northern hemisphere and conversely in the southern hemisphere. After the theta aurora has formed, changes in By or Bz readjust the merging configuration and continue the auroral pattern. The transpolar arcs are on closed magnetic field lines that bifurcate two open sections of the polar cap and map to the outer plasma sheet. Four theta auroral events were studied using data from the ISTP/GGS Polar and Wind spacecraft and the ground-based SuperDARN radars. Observations that are correctly predicted by our model include the following: (1) The formation and evolution of theta auroras observed by the visible imaging system are closely related to the IMF patterns measured by the Wind magnetic field investigation. (2) Both electrons and ions in the transpolar arc and poleward part of the nightside auroral oval exhibit similar spectral characteristics, identified from the data acquired with Hydra and the comprehensive energetic particle and pitch angle distribution experiment. The low-energy electrons show counterstreaming distributions, consistent with their being on closed field lines that magnetically connect to the boundary plasma sheet in the magnetotail. (3) Ion composition measurements obtained from the toroidal imaging mass-angle spectrograph show cold plasma outflows from the ionosphere and hot, isotropic magnetospheric ions in the two regions, also indicating transpolar arcs are on closed field lines. (4) Large scale polar cap convection inferred by SuperDARN observations is well correlated with IMF patterns. (5) Plasma convection in the transpolar arcs, inferred from the electric field instrument and the magnetic field investigation measurements, is sunward.

J. Geophys. Res., 103, 17,367-17,390, 1998