Field-Aligned Currents in Saturn’s Southern Nightside Magnetosphere: Sub‑Corotation and Planetary Period Oscillation Currents

Monday, 15 December 2014
Gregory James Hunt1, Stanley W H Cowley2, Gabrielle Provan2, Emma J Bunce2, Igor I Alexeev3, Elena Semenovna Belenkaya3, Vladimir V Kalegaev3, Michele Karen Dougherty4 and Andrew J Coates5, (1)University of Leicester, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Leicester, LE1, United Kingdom, (2)University of Leicester, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Leicester, United Kingdom, (3)Lomonosov Moscow State University, Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics, Moscow, Russia, (4)Imperial College London, Blackett Laboratory, London, United Kingdom, (5)University College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, London, United Kingdom
We have investigated azimuthal magnetic field data showing the presence of field-aligned current sheets on 31 similar Cassini passes during the 2008 interval of near polar orbits across Saturn’s southern post-midnight auroral region at radial distances ~3‑5 RS. The currents are found to be strongly modulated in magnitude, form, and position by the phase of the southern planetary period oscillations (PPOs). We separate currents independent of PPO phase from PPO-related currents, by exploiting the expected anti-symmetry of the latter with respect to PPO phase. The PPO-independent current system is thought to be associated mainly with sub-corotation of magnetospheric plasma, and consists of a weak distributed downward current over the whole polar region, enhanced downward currents in a layer mapping to the outer magnetosphere where the ionospheric conductivity is elevated, and a main upward-directed current layer ~2° wide centered at ~18° co-latitude with respect to the southern pole carrying ~2.5 MA per radian of azimuth. The latter current maps to the main region of the hot plasma in Saturn’s magnetosphere and is co-located with Saturn’s main UV oval in this hemisphere and local time sector. No major currents are detected mapping to the inner equatorial magnetosphere ~4-8 RS dominated by cool Enceladus plasma. The PPO-related currents map to the inner part of the hot plasma region at ~18°‑20° co-latitude, and carry rotating upward and downward currents peaking at ~1.7 MA rad‑1. The co-latitude of the current layers is also modulated by 1° amplitude in the PPO cycle, with maximum equatorward and poleward excursions adjacent to maximum upward and downward PPO currents, respectively. It is shown that this phasing requires the current system to be driven upward from the planetary atmosphere rather than downward from the magnetosphere.