Jovian deep magnetotail composition and structure

D. J. McComas, F. Allegrini, F. Bagenal, R. W. Ebert, H. A. Elliott, G. Nicolaou, J. R. Szalay, P. Valek, S. Weidner

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12 Scopus citations


We analyze plasma ion observations from the Solar Wind Around Pluto instrument on New Horizons as it traveled back through the dusk flank of the Jovian magnetotail from ~600 to more than 2500 Jovian radii behind the planet. We find that at all distances, light ions (mostly protons) dominate the heavy ions (S++ and O+) that are far more abundant in the near Jupiter plasma disk and that were expected to be the primary ions filling the Jovian magnetotail. This key new observation might indicate that heavy ions are confined closer to the equator than the spacecraft trajectory or a substantial addition of light ions via reconnection and/or mixing along the magnetopause boundary. However, because we find no evidence for acceleration of the tail plasma with distance, a more likely explanation seems to be that the heavy ions are preferentially released down the dawn flank of the magnetotail. Perhaps, this occurs as a part of the process where flux tubes, after expanding as they rotate across the near-tail region, need to pull back inward in order to fit within the dawnside of the magnetopause. A second major finding of this study is that there are two dominant periods of the plasma structures in the Jovian magnetotail: 3.53 (0.18 full width at half maximum (FWHM)) and 5.35 (0.38 FWHM) days. Remarkably, the first of these is identical within the errors to Europa's orbital period (3.55 days). Both of these results should provide important new fodder for Jovian magnetospheric theories and lead to a better understanding of Jupiter's magnetosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1763-1777
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Jupiter
  • magnetotail


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