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    Auroral substorms as an electrical discharge phenomenon

    Akasofu S I

    Auroral substorms, Expansion phase, Magnetospheric substorms, Cosmical electrodynamics

    The relationship among the power ε(t), the intensity of the DD(t) and UL(t) currents, together with the schematic representation of the energy flow and the DD and UL current patterns (Sun et al.,1998).

    During the last 50 years, we have made much progress in studying auroral substorms (consisting of the growth phase, the expansion phase, and the recovery phase). In particular, we have quantitatively learned about auroral substorms in terms of the global energy input–output relationship. (i) What powers auroral substorms? (ii) Why is there a long delay (1 h) of auroral activities after the magnetosphere is powered (growth phase)? (iii) How much energy is accumulated and unloaded during substorms? (iv) Why is the lifetime of the expansion phase so short (1h)? (v) How is the total energy input–output relationship? (vi) Where is the magnetic energy accumulated during the growth phase? On the basis of the results obtained in (i)–(vi), we have reached the following crucial question: (vii) how can the unloaded energy produce a secondary dynamo, which powers the expansion phase? Or more specifically, how can the accumulated magnetic energy get unloaded such that it generates the earthward electric fields needed to produce the expansion phase of auroral substorms? It is this dynamo and the resulting current circuit that drive a variety of explosive auroral displays as electrical discharge phenomena during the expansion phase, including the poleward advance of auroral arcs and the electrojet. This chain of processes is summarized in Section 4.2. This is the full version of work published by Akasofu (2015).

    A tentative answer to this crucial question is attempted. Phase occurs impulsively seems to be that the magnetosphere within a distance of 10 Re becomes inflated and unstable (β ∼ 1.0), when the accumulated energy W during the growth phase (at the rate of about epsilon; = 5 × 10 18 erg/s in about 1.5 h) reaches 2 × 10 22 —or at most 10 23 —ergs. Thus, the magnetosphere unloads and dissipates the energy in order to stabilize itself by deflating at the rate of about 5 × 10 18 erg/s (mainly as the Joule heat in the ionosphere), resulting in an impulsive (1 h, 2 × 10 22 ergs ÷ 3.5 × 10 18 erg/s) expansion phase. The deflating process results in a dynamo in a thin magnetic shell near the earthward end of the current sheet by separating electrons from protons and produces an earthward electric field of more than ∼10 mV/m. The separated electrons are discharged along the circuit of the expansion phase, constituting an electrical discharge currents of 5 × 10 6 A and causing brightening an arc, the first indication of the onset of the expansion phase.