ISTP observations of plasmoid ejection: IMP 8 and Geotail

J. A. Slavin, D. H. Fairfield, M. M. Kuznetsova, C. J. Owen, R. P. Lepping, S. Taguchi, T. Mukai, Y. Saito, T. Yamamoto, S. Kokubun, A. T. Y. Lui, and G. D. Reeves

Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics, NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD


IMP 8 and Geotail observations of traveling compression regions (TCRs) and plasmoids, respectively, are used to investigate plasmoid formation and ejection. One year of IMP 8 magnetometer measurements taken during the distant tail phase of the Geotail mission were searched for TCRs, which signal the release of plasmoids down the tail. A total of 10 such intervals were identified. Examination of the Geotail measurements showed that this spacecraft was in the magnetotail for only three of the events. However, in all three cases, clear plasmoid signatures were observed at Geotail. These plasmoids were observed at distances of X = -170 to -197 RE. The in situ plasma velocities in these plasmoids are found to exceed the time-of-flight speeds between IMP 8 and Geotail suggesting that some further acceleration may have taken place following release. The inferred lengths of these plasmoids, ~27-40 RE, are comparable to the downtail distance of IMP 8. This indicates that TCR at IMP 8 can be caused by plasmoids forming not only earthward but also adjacent to or just tailward of the spacecraft. The closeness of IMP 8 to the point of plasmoid formation is confirmed by the small, ~0-3 min, time delays between the TCR perturbation and substorm onset. In two of the plasmoid events, high-speed earthward plasma flows and streaming energetic particles were measured in the plasma sheet boundary layer surrounding the plasmoid along with large positive Bz at the leading edge of the plasmoid suggesting that the core of the plasmoid was "snow plowing" into flux tubes recently closed at an active distant neutral line. In summary, these unique two-point measurements clearly show plasmoid ejection near substorm onset, their rapid movement to the distant tail and their further evolution as they encounter preexisting X lines in the distant tail.

J. Geophys. Res., 103, A1, 119-133, 1998