Periodic spacing between consecutive equatorial plasma bubbles

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Abstract

We analyze three-years of data collected by a field-aligned airglow imaging system located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory near La Serena, Chile to determine the occurrence of equatorial plasma bubbles (EPBs). On 317 of the 552 predominately clear nights of observations, structure indicative of EPBs is present. On 123 of these nights, multiple EPBs with periodic spacings were recorded with 88 nights showing 3 or more consecutive bubbles. We suggest that the periodic spacing of EPBs could be related to the properties of an underlying seed mechanism, namely gravity waves (GWs). The distribution of spacings compares favorably to the spectrum of GW induced traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs) measured by Vadas and Crowley (2010) from a similar geographic latitude in the northern hemisphere. Furthermore, the distribution of spacings decreases from 2006 through 2009, tracking the corresponding decrease in the thermospheric neutral temperature, Tn. As Tn decreases, GWs with larger horizontal wavelengths have smaller initial amplitudes and cannot propagate as easily to EPB seeding altitudes. Thus, our observations are consistent with GW theory.

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