loading page

Evolution of pitch angle distributions of relativistic electrons during geomagnetic storms: Van Allen Probes Observations
  • +2
  • Ashley D Greeley,
  • Shrikanth G Kanekal,
  • David Gary Sibeck,
  • Quintin Schiller,
  • Daniel N. Baker
Ashley D Greeley
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Corresponding Author:ashley.greeley@nasa.gov

Author Profile
Shrikanth G Kanekal
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Author Profile
David Gary Sibeck
Author Profile
Quintin Schiller
NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center
Author Profile
Daniel N. Baker
University of Colorado Boulder
Author Profile


We present a study analyzing relativistic and ultra relativistic electron energization and the evolution of pitch angle distributions using data from the Van Allen Probes. We study the connection between energization and isotropization to determine if there is a coherence across storms and across energies. Pitch angle distributions are fit with a Jsinθ function, and the variable ‘n’ is characterized as the pitch angle index and tracked over time. Our results show that, consistently across all storms with ultra relativistic electron energization, electrons become most anisotropic within around a day of Dst and relax down to prestorm isotropization levels in the following week. In addition, each consecutively higher energy channel is associated with higher anisotropy after storm main phase. Changes in the pitch angle index are reflected in each energy channel; when 1.8 MeV electrons increase (or decrease) in pitch angle index, so do all the other energy channels. In a superposed epoch study, we show that the peak anisotropies differ between CME- and CIR- driven storms and measure the relaxation rate as the anisotropy falls after the storm. The relaxation rate in pitch angle index for CME-driven storms is -0.14+/-0.023 at 1.8 MeV, -0.28+/-0.01 at 3.4 MeV, and -0.36±0.02 at 5.2 MeV. For CIR-driven storms, the relaxation rates are -0.09±0.01 for 1.8 MeV, -0.12±0.02 for 3.4 MeV, and -0.11±0.02 for 5.2 MeV. This study shows that there is a global coherence across energies and that storm type may play a role in the evolution of electron pitch angle distributions.
Feb 2021Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics volume 126 issue 2. 10.1029/2020JA028335