Statistical Characteristics of Energetic Electron Pitch Angle Distributions in the Van Allen Probe Era: 1. Butterfly Distributions With Flux Peaks at Preferred Pitch Angles

Academic Article


  • AbstractWe present a statistical study on the properties of equatorial electron pitch angle distributions (PADs) in the Earth's outer radiation belt, for the first time based on particle measurements from the entire Van Allen Probes mission. A detailed selection criteria is used to identify intervals when flux measurements at energies from 0.2 to 3.4 MeV are available across a wide range of pitch angles close to the geomagnetic equatorial plane. To better characterize the shape of each pitch angle distribution, the flux data is fitted to functions of the equatorial pitch angle based on Legendre polynomials. Using this technique, we show that the shape of the PADs strongly depends on the particle's energy, location and geomagnetic activity. These results are used to identify the dominant physical processes responsible for creating PADs with different shapes. The results presented here mainly focus on the occurrence statistics and properties of butterfly PADs. Significantly, we find clear evidence that butterfly PADs have a peak flux that preferentially occurs at two distinct and discrete equatorial pitch angles, either 35° ± 5° or 65° ± 5°. Energy, L‐shell and magnetic local time variations indicate that the flux peaks at equatorial pitch angles ∼35° appear consistent with magnetopause shadowing, whilst those peaking at ∼65° may be associated with wave‐particle interactions. We also show that the flux at low and high pitch angles, for both butterfly and nonbutterfly PADs, remains remarkably well correlated even as the flux intensity varies by four orders of magnitude.
  • Authors

  • Ozeke, LG
  • Mann, IR
  • Olifer, L
  • Claudepierre, SG
  • Spence, Harlan
  • Baker, DN
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • March 2022
  • Published In


  • Van Allen Probes
  • magnetopause shadowing
  • outer radiation belt
  • pitch angle distributions
  • pitch angle scattering
  • wave-particle interactions
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)


  • 127
  • Issue

  • 3