Suprathermal electron environment of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: Observations from the Rosetta Ion and Electron Sensor
1 The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064, USA
2 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
3 Space Science and Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA
4 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA
5 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA
Received: 18 April 2015
Accepted: 15 May 2015
Context. The Rosetta spacecraft is currently escorting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko until its perihelion approach at 1.2 AU. This mission has provided unprecedented views into the interaction of the solar wind and the comet as a function of heliocentric distance.
Aims. We study the interaction of the solar wind and comet at large heliocentric distances (>2 AU) using data from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium Ion and Electron Sensor (RPC-IES). From this we gain insight into the suprathermal electron distribution, which plays an important role in electron-neutral chemistry and dust grain charging.
Methods. Electron velocity distribution functions observed by IES fit to functions used to previously characterize the suprathermal electrons at comets and interplanetary shocks. We used the fitting results and searched for trends as a function of cometocentric and heliocentric distance.
Results. We find that interaction of the solar wind with this comet is highly turbulent and stronger than expected based on historical studies, especially for this weakly outgassing comet. The presence of highly dynamical suprathermal electrons is consistent with observations of comets (e.g., Giacobinni-Zinner, Grigg-Skjellerup) near 1 AU with higher outgassing rates. However, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is much farther from the Sun and appears to lack an upstream bow shock.
Conclusions. The mass loading process, which likely is the cause of these processes, plays a stronger role at large distances from the Sun than previously expected. We discuss the possible mechanisms that most likely are responsible for this acceleration: heating by waves generated by the pick-up ion instability, and the admixture of cometary photoelectrons.
Key words: comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / plasmas / solar wind
© ESO, 2015