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The formation of saturn's and jupiter's electron radiation belts by magnetospheric electric fields

MPS-Authors

Hao,  Y.-X.
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

Sun,  Y.-X.
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Roussos,  Elias
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Krupp,  Norbert
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Hao, Y.-X., Sun, Y.-X., Roussos, E., Liu, Y., Kollmann, P., Yuan, C.-J., et al. (2020). The formation of saturn's and jupiter's electron radiation belts by magnetospheric electric fields. The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 905(1): L10. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/abca3f.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-E809-A
Abstract
The existence of planetary radiation belts with relativistic electron components means that powerful acceleration mechanisms are operating within their volume. Mechanisms that bring charged particles planetward toward stronger magnetic fields can cause their heating. On the basis that electron fluxes in Saturn's radiation belts are enhanced over discrete energy intervals, previous studies have suggested that rapid inward plasma flows may be controlling the production of their most energetic electrons. However, rapid plasma inflows languish in the planet's inner magnetosphere, and they are not spatially appealing as a mechanism to form the belts. Here we show that slow, global-scale flows resulting from transient noon-to-midnight electric fields successfully explain the discretized flux spectra at quasi- and fully relativistic energies, and that they are ultimately responsible for the bulk of the highest energy electrons trapped at Saturn. This finding is surprising, given that plasma flows at Saturn are dominated by the planetary rotation; these weak electric field perturbations were previously considered impactful only over a very narrow electron energy range where the magnetic drifts of electrons cancel out with corotation. We also find quantitative evidence that ultrarelativistic electrons in Jupiter's radiation belts are accelerated by the same mechanism. Given that similar processes at Earth drive a less efficient electron transport compared to Saturn and Jupiter, the conclusion is emerging that global-scale electric fields can provide powerful relativistic electron acceleration, especially at strongly magnetized and fast-rotating astrophysical objects.