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Cassini/CAPS Observations of Duskside Tail Dynamics at Saturn

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Saturn’s magnetospheric dynamics are driven by two principal facts: The dominant plasma production occurs deep inside the magnetosphere via ionization of water from the small moon Enceladus; and Saturn is a very fast rotator, with good electrical connectivity between the rotating ionosphere and the vast extended magnetosphere.  



The former fact means that one fundamental driver of global dynamics is the need to shed the plasma that is continually added to the inner magnetosphere.  The latter fact indicates that centrifugal stresses may well play a role in the processes that enable that plasma-shedding.  Saturn’s magnetospheric tail is believed to be the prime region where mass is ultimately lost to the solar wind, and Cassini has now completed its traversal of the tail region. We update and extend our earlier study of the properties of magnetospheric plasma in the post-midnight equatorial region of Saturn’s tail with subsequent pre-midnight data from 2010.  We focus on near-equatorial Cassini/CAPS plasma observations for intervals when CAPS was able to view both inward and outward plasma flows, and we examine the spatial distribution and other properties of such flows.  We find evidence for a complex process of mass loss via magnetic reconnection, similar to what was proposed by Vasyliunas for Jupiter in 1983.

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