Direct Observation of Radiation-Belt Electron Acceleration from Electron-Volt Energies to Megavolts by Nonlinear Whistlers

The mechanisms for accelerating electrons from thermal to relativistic energies in the terrestrial magnetosphere, on the sun, and in many astrophysical environments have never been verified. We present the first direct observation of two processes that, in a chain, cause this acceleration in Earth\textquoterights outer radiation belt. The two processes are parallel acceleration from electron-volt to kilovolt energies by parallel electric fields in time-domain structures (TDS), after which the parallel electron velocity becomes sufficiently large for Doppler-shifted upper band whistler frequencies to be in resonance with the electron gyration frequency, even though the electron energies are kilovolts and not hundreds of kilovolts. The electrons are then accelerated by the whistler perpendicular electric field to relativistic energies in several resonant interactions. TDS are packets of electric field spikes, each spike having duration of a few hundred microseconds and containing a local parallel electric field. The TDS of interest resulted from nonlinearity of the parallel electric field component in oblique whistlers and consisted of \~0.1 msec pulses superposed on the whistler waveform with each such spike containing a net parallel potential the order of 50 V. Local magnetic field compression from remote activity provided the free energy to drive the two processes. The expected temporal correlations between the compressed magnetic field, the nonlinear whistlers with their parallel electric field spikes, the electron flux and the electron pitch angle distributions were all observed.
Year of Publication
Physical Review Letters
Date Published
ISSN Number