Articles | Volume 3, issue 1
21 Feb 2012
 | 21 Feb 2012

Spiral structures and regularities in magnetic field variations and auroras

Y. I. Feldstein, L. I. Gromova, M. Förster, and A. E. Levitin

Abstract. The conception of spiral shaped precipitation regions, where solar corpuscles penetrate the upper atmosphere, was introduced into geophysics by C. Störmer and K. Birkeland at the beginning of the last century. Later, in the course of the XX-th century, spiral distributions were disclosed and studied in various geophysical phenomena. Most attention was devoted to spiral shapes in the analysis of regularities pertaining to the geomagnetic activity and auroras.

We review the historical succession of perceptions about the number and positions of spiral shapes, that characterize the spatial-temporal distribution of magnetic disturbances. We describe the processes in the upper atmosphere, which are responsible for the appearance of spiral patterns. We considered the zones of maximal aurora frequency and of maximal particle precipitation intensity, as offered in the literature, in their connection with the spirals.

We discuss the current system model, that is closely related to the spirals and that appears to be the source for geomagnetic field variations during magnetospheric substorms and storms. The currents in ionosphere and magnetosphere constitute together with field-aligned (along the geomagnetic field lines) currents (FACs) a common 3-D current system. At ionospheric heights, the westward and eastward electrojets represent characteristic elements of the current system. The westward electrojet covers the longitudinal range from the morning to the evening hours, while the eastward electrojet ranges from afternoon to near-midnight hours. The polar electrojet is positioned in the dayside sector at cusp latitudes. All these electrojets map along the magnetic field lines to certain plasma structures in the near-Earth space. The first spiral distribution of auroras was found based on observations in Antarctica for the nighttime-evening sector (N-spiral), and later in the nighttime-evening (N-spiral) and morning (M-spiral) sectors both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The N- and M-spirals drawn in polar coordinates form an oval, along which one observes most often auroras in the zenith together with a westward electrojet.

The nature of spiral distributions in geomagnetic field variations was unabmibuously interpreted after the discovery of the spiral's existence in the auroras had been established and this caused a change from the paradigm of the auroral zone to the paradigm of the auroral oval. Zenith forms of auroras are found within the boundaries of the auroral oval. The oval is therefore the region of most frequent precipitations of corpuscular fluxes with auroral energy, where anomalous geophysical phenomena occur most often and with maximum intensity.

S. Chapman and L. Harang identified the existence of a discontinuity at auroral zone latitudes (Φ ∼ 67°) around midnight between the westward and eastward electrojets, that is now known as the Harang discontinuity. After the discovery of the auroral oval and the position of the westward electrojet along the oval, it turned out, that there is no discontinuity at a fixed latitude between the opposite electrojets, but rather a gap, the latitude of which varies smoothly between Φ ∼ 67° at midnight and Φ ∼ 73° at 20:00 MLT. In this respect the term ''Harang discontinuity'' represents no intrinsic phenomenon, because the westward electrojet does not experience any disruption in the midnight sector but continues without breaks from dawn to dusk hours.