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Transport of solar wind into Earth's magnetosphere through rolled-up Kelvin–Helmholtz vortices

Nature volume 430, pages 755758 (12 August 2004) | Download Citation



Establishing the mechanisms by which the solar wind enters Earth's magnetosphere is one of the biggest goals of magnetospheric physics, as it forms the basis of space weather phenomena such as magnetic storms and aurorae1. It is generally believed that magnetic reconnection is the dominant process, especially during southward solar-wind magnetic field conditions when the solar-wind and geomagnetic fields are antiparallel at the low-latitude magnetopause2. But the plasma content in the outer magnetosphere increases during northward solar-wind magnetic field conditions3,4, contrary to expectation if reconnection is dominant. Here we show that during northward solar-wind magnetic field conditions—in the absence of active reconnection at low latitudes—there is a solar-wind transport mechanism associated with the nonlinear phase of the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability5. This can supply plasma sources for various space weather phenomena.

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We are indebted to the Cluster team for the design and successful operation of the Cluster II mission. Part of this work was done while H.H. visited UC Berkeley.

Author information


  1. Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755-8000, USA

    • H. Hasegawa
  2. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Meguro, Tokyo 152-8551, Japan

    • M. Fujimoto
    • , C. Hashimoto
    •  & R. TanDokoro
  3. Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-7540, USA

    • T.-D. Phan
  4. Centre d'Etude Spatiale des Rayonnements, BP 4346, Toulouse 31029, France

    • H. Rème
  5. Space and Atmospheric Physics Group, Imperial College, London SW7 2BZ, UK

    • A. Balogh
  6. Space Sciences Division, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Chilton, Didcot, Oxfordshire OX11 0QX, UK

    • M. W. Dunlop


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to H. Hasegawa.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Figure

    Relation between the x components of the ion bulk velocity and of the local Alfvén velocity during the observation of the vortices, indicating the absence of local reconnection near the vortices.

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