On the decades-long stability of the interstellar wind through the solar system
1 GEPI, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, Université Paris Diderot, Place Jules Janssen, 92190 Meudon, France
2 LATMOS, Université de Versailles Saint Quentin, INSU/CNRS, 11 Bd D’ Alembert, 78200 Guyancourt, France
Received: 8 December 2013
Accepted: 30 January 2014
We have revisited the series of observations recently used to infer a temporal variation in the interstellar helium flow over the past forty years. Concerning the recent IBEX-Lo direct detection of helium neutrals, there are two types of precise and unambiguous measurements that do not rely on the exact response of the instrument: the count rate maxima as a function of the spin angle, which determines the ecliptic latitude of the flow, and the count rate maxima as a function of IBEX longitude, which determines a tight relationship between the ecliptic longitude of the flow and its velocity far from the Sun. These measurements provide parameters (and couples of parameters in the second case) that are remarkably similar to the canonical, old values. In contrast, the preferred choice of a lower velocity and higher longitude reported before from IBEX data is only based on the count rate variation (at each spin phase maximum) as a function of the satellite longitude, when drifting across the region of high fluxes. We have examined the consequences of dead-time counting effects and conclude that including them at a realistic level is sufficient to reconcile the data with the old parameters, calling for further investigations. We discuss the analyses of the STEREO pickup ion data and argue that the statistical method that has been preferred to infer the neutral flow longitude (instead of the more direct method based on the pickup ion maximum flux directions) is not appropriate. Moreover, transport effects may have been significant at the very weak solar activity level of 2007−2009, in which case the longitudes of the pickup ion maxima are only upper limits on the flow longitude. Finally, we found that using some flow longitude determinations based on UV glow data is not adequate. Based on this global study, and at variance with recent conclusions, we find no evidence for a temporal variability of the interstellar helium flow. This has implications for inner and outer heliosphere studies.
Key words: interplanetary medium / Sun: heliosphere / solar wind / Sun: UV radiation / ISM: general / solar neighborhood
© ESO, 2014