Dominance of high-energy (>150 keV) heavy ion intensities in Earth's middle to outer magnetosphere

Ian J. Cohen, Donald G. Mitchell, Lynn M. Kistler, Barry H. Mauk, Brian J. Anderson, Joseph H. Westlake, Shinichi Ohtani, Douglas C. Hamilton, Drew L. Turner, J. Bernard Blake, Joseph F. Fennell, Allison N. Jaynes, Trevor W. Leonard, Andrew Gerrard, Louis J. Lanzerotti, Robert C. Allen, James L. Burch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Previous observations have driven the prevailing assumption in the field that energetic ions measured by an instrument using a bare solid state detector (SSD) are predominantly protons. However, new near-equatorial energetic particle observations obtained between 7 and 12 RE during Phase 1 of the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission challenge the validity of this assumption. In particular, measurements by the Energetic Ion Spectrometer (EIS) instruments have revealed that the intensities of heavy ion species (specifically oxygen and helium) dominate those of protons at energies ≳ 150–220 keV in the middle to outer (>7 RE) magnetosphere. Given that relative composition measurements can drift as sensors degrade in gain, quality cross-calibration agreement between EIS observations and those from the SSD-based Fly's Eye Energetic Particle Spectrometer (FEEPS) sensors provides critical support to the veracity of the measurement. Similar observations from the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment (RBSPICE) instruments aboard the Van Allen Probes spacecraft extend the ion composition measurements into the middle magnetosphere and reveal a strongly proton-dominated environment at L≲6 but decreasing proton intensities at L≳6. It is concluded that the intensity dominance of the heavy ions at higher energies (>150 keV) arises from the existence of significant populations of multiply-charged heavy ions, presumably of solar wind origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9282-9293
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


  • Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS)
  • energetic ion composition
  • magnetospheric ion composition
  • outer magnetosphere
  • ring current composition
  • suprathermal ions


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