Cold and warm electrons at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
1 Swedish Institute of Space Physics, 98128 Uppsala, Sweden
2 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Uppsala University, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
3 Laboratoire de Physique et de Chimie de l’Environnement et de l’Espace, LPC2E, 45071 Orléans, France
4 Department of Physics, University of Oslo, 0313 Oslo, Norway
5 Alfvén Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, 114 073 Stockholm, Sweden
6 Finnish Meteorological Institute, 00560 Helsinki, Finland
7 Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX78238, USA
8 Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA
9 Department of Physics, Imperial College London, SW7 2 AZ London, UK
10 Swedish Institute of Space Physics, 98128 Kiruna, Sweden
Received: 29 November 2016
Accepted: 27 March 2017
Context. Strong electron cooling on the neutral gas in cometary comae has been predicted for a long time, but actual measurements of low electron temperature are scarce.
Aims. Our aim is to demonstrate the existence of cold electrons in the inner coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and show filamentation of this plasma.
Methods. In situ measurements of plasma density, electron temperature and spacecraft potential were carried out by the Rosetta Langmuir probe instrument, LAP. We also performed analytical modelling of the expanding two-temperature electron gas.
Results. LAP data acquired within a few hundred km from the nucleus are dominated by a warm component with electron temperature typically 5–10 eV at all heliocentric distances covered (1.25 to 3.83 AU). A cold component, with temperature no higher than about 0.1 eV, appears in the data as short (few to few tens of seconds) pulses of high probe current, indicating local enhancement of plasma density as well as a decrease in electron temperature. These pulses first appeared around 3 AU and were seen for longer periods close to perihelion. The general pattern of pulse appearance follows that of neutral gas and plasma density. We have not identified any periods with only cold electrons present. The electron flux to Rosetta was always dominated by higher energies, driving the spacecraft potential to order − 10 V.
Conclusions. The warm (5–10 eV) electron population observed throughout the mission is interpreted as electrons retaining the energy they obtained when released in the ionisation process. The sometimes observed cold populations with electron temperatures below 0.1 eV verify collisional cooling in the coma. The cold electrons were only observed together with the warm population. The general appearance of the cold population appears to be consistent with a Haser-like model, implicitly supporting also the coupling of ions to the neutral gas. The expanding cold plasma is unstable, forming filaments that we observe as pulses.
Key words: comets: general / plasmas / space vehicles: instruments
© ESO, 2017