Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Relativistic electrons generated at Earth’s quasi-parallel bow shock

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Science Advances  03 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaaw1368
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw1368


Plasma shocks are the primary means of accelerating electrons in planetary and astrophysical settings throughout the universe. Which category of shocks, quasi-perpendicular or quasi-parallel, accelerates electrons more efficiently is debated. Although quasi-perpendicular shocks are thought to be more efficient electron accelerators, relativistic electron energies recently observed at quasi-parallel shocks exceed theoretical expectations. Using in situ observations at Earth’s bow shock, we show that such relativistic electrons are generated by the interaction between the quasi-parallel shock and a related nonlinear structure, a foreshock transient, through two betatron accelerations. Our observations show that foreshock transients, overlooked previously, can increase electron acceleration efficiency at a quasi-parallel shock by an order of magnitude. Thus, quasi-parallel shocks could be more important in generating relativistic electrons, such as cosmic ray electrons, than previously thought.

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