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Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics

Lower ionospheric cyclotron maser theory: A possible source of 2ƒ ce and 3ƒ ce auroral radio emissions


  • Peter H. Yoon,

  • A. T. Weatherwax,

  • T. J. Rosenberg,

  • J. LaBelle


A lower ionospheric electron cyclotron maser has recently been suggested as a possible source of natural radio emissions that have been observed with ground-based instruments in the auroral zone. According to this theory, the observed emissions are interpreted as X mode electromagnetic waves at 2 and/or 3 times the ionospheric electron cyclotron frequency (ƒce). In the present study we carry out a more thorough analysis of the cyclotron maser instability, using a more complete growth rate expression and more realistic energetic electron distribution functions. Growth rates of various electromagnetic modes and harmonics are calculated. It is shown that growth rates for 2ƒce and 3ƒce X modes can exceed collisional ionospheric damping rates, confirming the original estimations. However, the present analysis also reveals that O mode waves at the fundamental cyclotron frequency, ƒce, should also be excited at the source. The propagation of excited electromagnetic waves from the source region to the ground inside a model horizontal density cavity structure is also examined by means of ray tracing technique. It is found that the O mode wave is unable to reach the ground, an explanation of why the emissions at ƒce are not detected on the ground.

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