Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Review article
21 May 2014
Review article |  | 21 May 2014

Investigations of the auroral luminosity distribution and the dynamics of discrete auroral forms in a historical retrospective

Y. I. Feldstein, V. G. Vorobjev, V. L. Zverev, and M. Förster

Abstract. Research results about planetary-scale auroral distributions are presented in a historical retrospective, beginning with the first "maps of isochasms" – lines of equal visibility of auroras in the firmament (Fig. 2) – up to "isoaurora maps" – lines of equal occurrence frequency of auroras in the zenith (Fig. 4). The exploration of auroras in Russia from Lomonosov in the 18th century (Fig. 1) until the start of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957 is shortly summed up. A generalised pattern of discrete auroral forms along the auroral oval during geomagnetically very quiet intervals is presented in Fig. 5. The changes of discrete auroral forms versus local time exhibit a fixed pattern with respect to the sun. The auroral forms comprise rays near noon, homogeneous arcs during the evening, and rayed arcs and bands during the night and in the morning. This fixed auroral pattern is unsettled during disturbances, which occur sometimes even during very quiet intervals. The azimuths of extended auroral forms vary with local time. Such variations in the orientation of extended forms above stations in the auroral zone have been used by various investigators to determine the position of the auroral oval (Fig. 9). Auroral luminosity of the daytime and nighttime sectors differ owing to different luminosity forms, directions of motion of the discrete forms, the height of the luminescent layers, and the spectral composition (predominant red emissions during daytime and green emissions during the night). Schemes that summarise principal peculiarities of daytime luminosity, its structure in MLT (magnetic local time) and MLat (magnetic latitude) coordinates, and the spectral composition of the luminosity are presented in Figs. 15 and 19. We discuss in detail the daytime sector dynamics of individual discrete forms for both quiet conditions and auroral substorms. The most important auroral changes during substorms occur in the nighttime sector. We present the evolution of conceptions about the succession of discrete auroral forms and their dynamics during disturbance intervals. This ranges from Birkeland's polar elementary storms, over the prospect of a fixed auroral pattern up to the auroral substorm model. The classic schemes of the spatial distribution and motion of discrete auroral forms during single substorms are shown in Fig. 20 (expansive and recovery phases) and Fig. 21 (creation, expansive and recovery phases). In this review we discuss various models of bulge formation, in particular as a result of new formation of arcs about 50–100 km poleward of previously existing auroral structures (Fig. 24). Discrete steps in the development of an expanding bulge are separated by 1–3 min from each other. The model of successive activations confines only to a ~40° longitudinal portion of the magnetotail (Fig. 28). We consider differences in the development of single substorms and substorms during magnetic storms. The structure and dynamics of auroras during steady magnetospheric convection (SMC) periods are dealt with in Sect. 8. A generalised scheme of the auroral distribution during SMC periods is shown in Fig. 34. Separate sections describe discrete auroras in the polar cap (Sect. 5), and the diffuse luminosity equatorward of the auroral oval (Sect. 9). Visual observations of diffuse auroral forms at midlatitudes suggest that the whole latitudinal interval between the auroral oval and the stable auroral red (SAR) arc is filled up with diffuse luminosity. SAR arcs with intensities of several tens of Rayleigh enclose systematically the region of diffuse luminosity; they are positioned at the border of the plasmasphere.