‘Pancake’ electron distributions in the outer radiation belts

Electron pitch angle distributions sharply peaked at 90 degrees pitch angle were first recorded in the energy range 50 eV < E < 500 eV by the GEOS1 and GEOS2 spacecraft in 1977/1978, from the plasmapause out to geostationary orbit. At the time they were explained as the remnants of pitch angle diffusion driven solely by electron cyclotron harmonic (ECH) waves. Here we report new observations by the Low Energy Plasma Analyser on board the Combined Release and Radiation Effects Satellite, which measured the complete pitch angle distribution over the energy range 100 eV < E < 30 keV. The pancake distributions are seen to develop from injected distributions that are nearly isotropic in velocity space, on a timescale that is greater than 2 hours. The freshly injected distributions are associated with strong ECH and whistler mode waves suggesting that the pancake distributions are likely to be caused by a combination of both wave types. Outside L = 6.0 the fitting analysis at energies in the range 100 eV < E < 1 keV shows that in the marginally stable state the phase space density contours lie approximately along the characteristic curves for diffusion by whistler mode waves determined independently from the plasma wave data. However, inside L = 6.0, significant departures are observed. Our results suggest that whistler mode waves play a dominant role in the formation of pancake distributions outside L = 6.0, whereas inside L = 6.0 and, in particular, in the vicinity of the plasmapause, the ECH waves also play a significant role. Consequently, both types of waves should be considered in any attempt to explain the diffuse aurora and the variation with L taken into account.


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Authors: Meredith, N.P., Johnstone, A.D., Szita, S., Horne, R.B. ORCIDORCID record for R.B. Horne, Anderson, R.R.

On this site: Richard Horne
1 June, 1999
Journal of Geophysical Research / 104
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