Investigating the auroral electrojets with low altitude polar orbiting satellites

T. Moretto, Nils Olsen, P. Ritter, G. Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Three geomagnetic satellite missions currently provide high precision magnetic field measurements from low altitude polar orbiting spacecraft. We demonstrate how these data can be used to determine the intensity and location of the horizontal currents that flow in the ionosphere, predominantly in the auroral electrojets. First, we examine the results during a recent geomagnetic storm. The currents derived from two satellites at different altitudes are in very good agreement, which verifies good stability of the method. Further, a very high degree of correlation (correlation coefficients of 0.8-0.9) is observed between the amplitudes of the derived currents and the commonly used auroral electro-jet indices based on magnetic measurements at ground. This points to the potential of defining an auroral activity index based on the satellite observations, which could be useful for space weather monitoring. A specific advantage of the satellite observations over the ground-based magnetic measurements is their coverage of the Southern Hemisphere, as well as the Northern. We utilize this in an investigation of the ionospheric currents observed in both polar regions during a period of unusually steady interplanetary magnetic field with a large negative Y-component. A pronounced asymmetry is found between the currents in the two hemispheres, which indicates real inter-hemispheric differences beyond the mirror-asymmetry between hemispheres that earlier studies have revealed. The method is also applied to another event for which the combined measurements of the three satellites provide a comprehensive view of the current systems. The analysis hereof reveals some surprising results concerning the connection between solar wind driver and the resulting ionospheric currents. Specifically, preconditioning of the magnetosphere (history of the interplanetary magnetic field) is seen to play an important role, and in the winter hemisphere, it seems to be harder to drive currents on the nightside than on the dayside.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnales Geophysicae
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1049-1061
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • ionosphere
  • current systems
  • electric fields and currents
  • magnetospheric physics
  • magnetosphere-ionosphere interactions

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