Recent satellite measurements have revealed two intriguing features associated with the formation of auroral arcs. The first is that an auroral arc is produced by a sheet of electrons accelerated along a geomagnetic field-aligned potential drop, and the second is that these electrons carry a field-aligned, upward directed electric current. In order to explain these measurements, a self-consistent, time dependent, computer simulation of auroral arc formation has been developed. The simulation demonstrates for the first time that a stable V-shaped potential structure, called an auroral double layer, develops spontaneously as a result of an ion shielded electron current sheet interacting with a conducting ionosphere. The double layer accelerates current-carrying electrons into the upper atmosphere at auroral energies. The double layer potential depends critically on the drift speed of the current-carrying electrons and on the temperature of the ambient shielding ions. Localized double layers occur near the ionosphere when the geomagnetic field is assumed to be uniform, but when a converging magnetic field is introduced, the double layer becomes extended due to the presence of an additional population of electrons trapped between the magnetic mirror and the double layer potential. The simulated auroral current sheet is subject to auroral curl and fold type deformations due to unstable Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. The previous incompletely understood auroral fold producing mechanism is described.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1981
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