Thermal electron acceleration by electric field spikes in the outer radiation belt: generation of field-aligned pitch angle distributions
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Van Allen Probes observations in the outer radiation belt have demonstrated an abundance non-linear electrostatic stucture called Time Domain Structures (TDS). One of the type of TDS is electrostatic electron-acoustic double layers (DL). Observed DLs are frequently accompanied by field-aligned (bi-directional) pitch angle distributions (PAD) of electrons with energies from hundred eVs up to several keV (rarely up to tens of keV). We perform numerical simulations of the DL interaction with thermal electrons making use of the test particle approach. DL parameters assumed in the simulations are adopted from observations. We show that DLs accelerate thermal electrons parallel to the magnetic field via the electrostatic Fermi mechanism, i.e. due to reflections from DL potential humps. Due to this interaction some fraction of electrons is scattered into the loss cone. The electron energy gain is larger for larger DL scalar potential amplitudes and higher propagation velocities. In addition to the Fermi mechanism electrons can be trapped by DLs in their generation region and accelerated due to transport to higher latitudes. Both mechanisms result in formation of field-aligned PADs for electrons with energies comparable to those found in observations. The Fermi mechanism provides field-aligned PADs for <1 keV electrons, while the trapping mechanism extends field-aligned PADs to higher energy electrons.