Mass-loading of the solar wind at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Observations and modelling
1 Swedish Institute of Space Physics, 981 28 Kiruna, Sweden
2 Luleå University of Technology, Department of Computer Science, Electrical and Space Engineering, 981 28 Kiruna, Sweden
3 Umeå University, Department of Physics, 90187 Umeå, Sweden
4 Technicsche Universität Braunschweig, Institute for Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
Received: 26 April 2016
Accepted: 12 September 2016
Context. The first long-term in-situ observation of the plasma environment in the vicinity of a comet, as provided by the European Rosetta spacecraft.
Aims. Here we offer characterisation of the solar wind flow near 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) and its long term evolution during low nucleus activity. We also aim to quantify and interpret the deflection and deceleration of the flow expected from ionization of neutral cometary particles within the undisturbed solar wind.
Methods. We have analysed in situ ion and magnetic field data and combined this with hybrid modeling of the interaction between the solar wind and the comet atmosphere.
Results. The solar wind deflection is increasing with decreasing heliocentric distances, and exhibits very little deceleration. This is seen both in observations and in modeled solar wind protons. According to our model, energy and momentum are transferred from the solar wind to the coma in a single region, centered on the nucleus, with a size in the order of 1000 km. This interaction affects, over larger scales, the downstream modeled solar wind flow. The energy gained by the cometary ions is a small fraction of the energy available in the solar wind.
Conclusions. The deflection of the solar wind is the strongest and clearest signature of the mass-loading for a small, low-activity comet, whereas there is little deceleration of the solar wind.
Key words: comets: general / comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / plasmas / methods: observational / methods: numerical / space vehicles: instruments
© ESO, 2016
Open Access article, published by EDP Sciences, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.