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Hot plasma parameters in Neptune's magnetosphere

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Abstract

Energy spectra of energetic protons and electrons (Ep ≳ 28 keV, Ee ≳ 22 keV, respectively) obtained with the Low Energy Charged Particle (LECP) instrument during the Voyager 2 encounter with Neptune on August 24–25, 1989 are presented. The proton spectral form was a power law (dj/dE = KE−γ), outside the orbit of Triton ( ∼ 14.3 RN); inside that distance, it was found to be a hot (kT ≃ 60 keV) Maxwellian distribution. Such distributions, observed in other planets as well, have yet to be explained theoretically. Similarly, the electron spectral form changed from a simple power law outside Triton to a two-slope power law with a high energy tail inside. Intensity and spectral features in both proton and electron fluxes were identified in association with the crossings of the Triton and 1989 N1 L-shells, but these features do not occur simultaneously in both species. Such signatures were manifested by relative peaks in both kT and γ spectral indices. Peak proton pressures of ∼2 × 10−9 dynes cm−2, and β ∼ 0.2 were measured at successive magnetic equatorial crossings, both inbound and outbound. These parameters show Neptune's magnetosphere to be relatively undistorted by hot plasma loading, similar to that of Uranus and unlike those of Saturn and Jupiter. Trapped electron fluxes at Neptune, as at Uranus, exceed the whistler mode stably trapped flux limit. Whistler-induced pitch angle scattering of energetic electrons in the radiation belts can yield a precipitating energy flux sufficient to drive Neptune's aurora.

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