Nuggets of MIST science, summarising recent MIST papers in a bitesize format.
By Nathan A. Case, Department of Physics, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
The aurora borealis, though most often visible from more northerly latitudes, can occasionally be seen from the UK too. To help the public in their endeavour to see the northern lights from the UK, Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch UK issues alerts of when the aurora might be visible.
As the currents driving the aurora intensify, they produce disturbances to the local magnetic field. Since its inception in September 2000, AuroraWatch UK has been using its own suite of magnetometers to record these disturbances and issue real-time alerts about where in the UK an aurora might be seen.
We have now combined and standardised these alerts, using the latest alert algorithm to produce a 17-year dataset of UK aurora alerts. This dataset, along with the real-time data, is freely available for the community and the general public to use. We find that the alerts match well with the wider Kp index and the solar cycle.
Case, N. A., Marple, S. R., Honary, F., Wild, J. A., Billett, D. D., & Grocott, A. 2017. AuroraWatch UK: An automated aurora alert system. Earth and Space Science, 4, 746–754. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017EA000328
(left) A pie chart illustrating the number of hours spent at each AuroraWatch UK activity level, as a percentage of the total number of hours. (right) A histogram of the percentage of hours spent at an elevated alert level (i.e., yellow or above) per year. Also plotted are (solid line) the percentage of time per year where Kp ≥ 4 and (dashed line) the mean daily sunspot number per year (as a proxy for solar activity). The sunspot number is divided by 10 for scale.
By Maria-Theresia Walach, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
The large scale convection of magnetic flux within the Earth’s magnetosphere due to reconnection, also known as the Dungey cycle [Dungey, 1961; 1963], is partially driven by the solar wind. During southward IMF reconnection at the subsolar magnetopause opens flux, which is then added to the magnetotail. Depending on the strength of solar wind-driving, the magnetospheric response can be delayed, episodic or prolonged, also known as “magnetospheric modes” [e.g. Pulkkinen et al., 2007].
Walach and Milan  produced a statistical analysis of the event progression of steady magnetic convection events (intervals where the dayside reconnection is balanced by nightside reconnection [e.g. DeJong et al., 2008]), substorms (dominant dayside reconnection is followed by a delayed interval of dominant nightside reconnection [e.g. Baker et al., 1996]), and sawtooth events (signatures appearing to be quasi-periodic and quasi-global substorms [e.g. Henderson, 2004]). Superposed epoch analyses show that 58% of the studied steady magnetospheric convection events are part of prolonged substorms, where dayside reconnection is at first dominant. Then nightside reconnection is initiated as part of a substorm, but as the solar wind-driving continues the Earth’s magnetosphere then progresses into a state of steady magnetospheric convection, after which the substorm recovery continues.
Superposed epoch analysis of substorms (red), sawtooth events (orange), steady magnetospheric convection events with preceding substorms (blue) and steady magnetospheric convection events without preceding substorms (green). The onset of the steady magnetospheric convection events with preceding substorms has been shifted to match the preceding substorm onset. The time of the event duration for the steady magnetospheric convection events in superposed epoch analyses in the right column has been normalised.
By Nadine Kalmoni, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, UK
During southward IMF reconnection on the dayside leads to a build up of magnetic energy in the tail. As flux is piled into the tail the configuration becomes unstable leading to an explosive release in magnetic energy, termed a substorm. The rearrangement of the magnetic field is accompanied by highly dynamic substorm aurora.
The relatively high temporal and spatial resolution of the THEMIS mission All Sky Imagers have allowed recent observations of small scale azimuthal structures, auroral beads, which form in the minutes leading to auroral onset [e.g. Rae et al., 2009]. Conjugate observations in the Northern and Southern hemisphere suggest that the beads have a common magnetotail driver and are the ionospheric signature of a magnetospheric instability [Motoba et al., 2012].
Kalmoni et al.  statistically analyse the growth and spatial scales of clear signatures of auroral beads observed in the minutes leading to substorm onset. The statistical observations are compared with the Shear-Flow Ballooning Instability (SFBI) [Voronkov et al., 1997] and the Cross-Field Current Instability [Lui, 2004 and references therein] which have both been proposed to play a role in substorm onset. Our observations conclude that the SFBI initiated in the near-Earth plasma sheet is the most likely explanation.
Normalised growth rate as a function of spatial scale in comparison to (a) the Cross-Field Current Instability for inner-edge and mid-tail plasma sheet parameters and (b) the Shear-Flow Ballooning Instability for varying shear-flow widths.