Magnetopause structure and attitude from Explorer 12 observations


  • B. U. Ö Sonnerup,

  • L. J. Cahill Jr.


It is shown how satellite magnetometer data at a magnetopause penetration can be used to determine the vector normal to the magnetopause current layer and the magnetic-field component along this normal. According to theory such a component is a measure of the amount of field reconnection at magnetopause. Results from 22 Explorer 12 boundary penetrations are presented indicating normal-field components of less than 5 γ in two-thirds of the cases. Measured field variations within the current layer are presented to demonstrate the existence of two fundamentally different types of boundary structure, the rotational and the tangential discontinuity. The former of these permits a nonzero normal field component, whereas the latter does not. The rotational discontinuity seems to occur predominantly during magnetic storms and two of these cases, involving substantial normal-field components, provide compelling evidence that field reconnection takes place during the storm main phase. Finally, the calculated normal vector is compared with the normal to the surface of the Mead-Beard magnetosphere model.