On the origin of the crescent-shaped distributions observed by MMS at the magnetopause

Academic Article


  • MMS observations recently confirmed that crescent-shaped electron velocity distributions in the plane perpendicular to the magnetic field occur in the electron diffusion region near reconnection sites at Earth's magnetopause. In this paper, we re-examine the origin of the crescent-shaped distributions in the light of our new finding that ions and electrons are drifting in opposite directions when displayed in magnetopause boundary-normal coordinates. Therefore, ExB drifts cannot cause the crescent shapes. We performed a high-resolution multi-scale simulation capturing sub-electron skin depth scales. The results suggest that the crescent-shaped distributions are caused by meandering orbits without necessarily requiring any additional processes found at the magnetopause such as the highly asymmetric magnetopause ambipolar electric field. We use an adiabatic Hamiltonian model of particle motion to confirm that conservation of canonical momentum in the presence of magnetic field gradients causes the formation of crescent shapes without invoking asymmetries or the presence of an ExB drift. An important consequence of this finding is that we expect crescent-shaped distributions also to be observed in the magnetotail, a prediction that MMS will soon be able to test.
  • Authors

  • Lapenta, G
  • Berchem, J
  • Zhou, M
  • Walker, RJ
  • El-Alaoui, M
  • Goldstein, ML
  • Paterson, WR
  • Giles, BL
  • Pollock, CJ
  • Russell, CT
  • Strangeway, RJ
  • Ergun, RE
  • Khotyaintsev, YV
  • Torbert, Roy
  • Burch, JL
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • February 2017
  • Published In


  • astro-ph.EP
  • physics.plasm-ph
  • physics.space-ph
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 2024
  • End Page

  • 2039
  • Volume

  • 122
  • Issue

  • 2