Cassini observations of plasmoid structure and dynamics: Implications for the role of magnetic reconnection in magnetospheric circulation at Saturn

[1] We survey the Cassini magnetometer data during the deep tail orbits in 2006, and find 34 direct encounters with plasmoids. They occur as single, isolated events but also in groups of two or more plasmoids as is frequently observed at Earth. We show a case study example of three such plasmoids over three hours, where we estimate an upper limit of 5.68 GWb of flux closure, and derive a reconnection rate over this interval of 526 kV. We show the results of a superposed epoch analysis of all 34 plasmoids indicating that, on average, plasmoids at Saturn are ∼8 min in duration and they tend toward a loop-like, as opposed to flux rope-like topology, with little or no axial core magnetic field. Our analysis shows that plasmoids at Saturn are followed by an extended interval of the post-plasmoid plasma sheet (PPPS) lasting ∼58 min. The average open magnetic flux disconnected by the continued reconnection following plasmoid formation that creates the PPPS is ∼3 GWb. We calculate expected recurrence rates for plasmoids, and compare these with a derived observational recurrence rate of one plasmoid every ∼2.4 days, explaining the reasons why the spacecraft has not observed as many plasmoids as we predict will be released. We conclude that the Cassini magnetometer measurements require a combination of Vasyliunas-type closed-flux plasma sheet and Dungey-type open-flux lobe reconnection to account for the observed properties of the plasmoids and PPPS in Saturn's magnetotail.




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