Interaction of the solar wind with comets: a Rosetta perspective.
ABSTRACT: The Rosetta mission provides an unprecedented possibility to study the interaction of comets with the solar wind. As the spacecraft accompanies comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from its very low-activity stage through its perihelion phase, the physics of mass loading is witnessed for various activity levels of the nucleus. While observations at other comets provided snapshots of the interaction region and its various plasma boundaries, Rosetta observations allow a detailed study of the temporal evolution of the innermost cometary magnetosphere. Owing to the short passage time of the solar wind through the interaction region, plasma instabilities such as ring--beam and non-gyrotropic instabilities are of less importance during the early life of the magnetosphere. Large-amplitude ultra-low-frequency (ULF) waves, the 'singing' of the comet, is probably due to a modified ion Weibel instability. This instability drives a cross-field current of implanted cometary ions unstable. The initial pick-up of these ions causes a major deflection of the solar wind protons. Proton deflection, cross-field current and the instability induce a threefold structure of the innermost interaction region with the characteristic Mach cone and Whistler wings as stationary interaction signatures as well as the ULF waves representing the dynamic aspect of the interaction.This article is part of the themed issue 'Cometary science after Rosetta'.
Project description:We outline the key questions about comets that must be answered in order to understand cometary formation in the context of the protoplanetary disc and the role of comets in the formation and evolution of the solar system. We then discuss the new understanding of comets from Rosetta and from other recent advances, including work presented by others at the discussion meeting. Finally, we suggest some key directions for future projects to better address the above questions.This article is part of the themed issue 'Cometary science after Rosetta'.
Project description:Abundant molecular oxygen was discovered in the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its origin was ascribed to primordial gaseous O2 incorporated into the nucleus during the comet's formation. This thesis was put forward after discounting several O2 production mechanisms in comets, including photolysis and radiolysis of water, solar wind-surface interactions and gas-phase collisions. Here we report an original Eley-Rideal reaction mechanism, which permits direct O2 formation in single collisions of energetic water ions with oxidized cometary surface analogues. The reaction proceeds by H2O+ abstracting a surface O-atom, then forming an excited precursor state, which dissociates to produce O2-. Subsequent photo-detachment leads to molecular O2, whose presence in the coma may thus be linked directly to water molecules and their interaction with the solar wind. This abiotic O2 production mechanism is consistent with reported trends in the 67P coma and raises awareness of the role of energetic negative ions in comets.
Project description:Primitive objects like comets hold important information on the material that formed our solar system. Several comets have been visited by spacecraft and many more have been observed through Earth- and space-based telescopes. Still our understanding remains limited. Molecular abundances in comets have been shown to be similar to interstellar ices and thus indicate that common processes and conditions were involved in their formation. The samples returned by the Stardust mission to comet Wild 2 showed that the bulk refractory material was processed by high temperatures in the vicinity of the early sun. The recent Rosetta mission acquired a wealth of new data on the composition of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (hereafter 67P/C-G) and complemented earlier observations of other comets. The isotopic, elemental, and molecular abundances of the volatile, semi-volatile, and refractory phases brought many new insights into the origin and processing of the incorporated material. The emerging picture after Rosetta is that at least part of the volatile material was formed before the solar system and that cometary nuclei agglomerated over a wide range of heliocentric distances, different from where they are found today. Deviations from bulk solar system abundances indicate that the material was not fully homogenized at the location of comet formation, despite the radial mixing implied by the Stardust results. Post-formation evolution of the material might play an important role, which further complicates the picture. This paper discusses these major findings of the Rosetta mission with respect to the origin of the material and puts them in the context of what we know from other comets and solar system objects.
Project description:Magnetic reconnection is believed to be the dominant process by which solar wind plasma enters the magnetosphere. However, for periods of northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) reconnection is less likely at the dayside magnetopause, and Kelvin-Helmholtz waves (KHWs) may be important agents for plasma entry and for the excitation of ultra-low-frequency (ULF) waves. The relative importance of KHWs is controversial because no statistical data on their occurrence frequency exist. Here we survey 7 years of in situ data from the NASA THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macro scale Interactions during Substorms) mission and find that KHWs occur at the magnetopause ?19% of the time. The rate increases with solar wind speed, Alfven Mach number and number density, but is mostly independent of IMF magnitude. KHWs may thus be more important for plasma transport across the magnetopause than previously thought, and frequently drive magnetospheric ULF waves.
Project description:Cometary nuclei are considered to most closely reflect the composition of the building blocks of our solar system. As such, comets carry important information about the prevalent conditions in the solar nebula before and after planet formation. Recent measurements of the time variation of major and minor volatile species in the coma of the Jupiter family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) by the ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) instrument onboard Rosetta provide insight into the possible origin of this comet. The observed outgassing pattern indicates that the nucleus of 67P contains crystalline ice, clathrates, and other ices. The observed outgassing is not consistent with gas release from an amorphous ice phase with trapped volatile gases. If the building blocks of 67P were formed from crystalline ices and clathrates, then 67P would have agglomerated from ices that were condensed and altered in the protosolar nebula closer to the Sun instead of more pristine ices originating from the interstellar medium or the outskirts of the disc, where amorphous ice may dominate.
Project description:Comet dust is primitive and shows significant diversity. Our knowledge of the properties of primitive cometary particles has expanded significantly through microscale investigations of cosmic dust samples (anhydrous interplanetary dust particles (IDPs), chondritic porous (CP) IDPs and UltraCarbonaceous Antarctic micrometeorites, Stardust and Rosetta), as well as through remote sensing (Spitzer IR spectroscopy). Comet dust are aggregate particles of materials unequilibrated at submicrometre scales. We discuss the properties and processes experienced by primitive matter in comets. Primitive particles exhibit a diverse range of: structure and typology; distribution of constituents; concentration and form of carbonaceous and refractory organic matter; Mg- and Fe-contents of the silicate minerals; sulfides; existence/abundance of type II chondrule fragments; high-temperature calcium-aluminium inclusions and ameboid-olivine aggregates; and rarely occurring Mg-carbonates and magnetite, whose explanation requires aqueous alteration on parent bodies. The properties of refractory materials imply there were disc processes that resulted in different comets having particular selections of primitive materials. The diversity of primitive particles has implications for the diversity of materials in the protoplanetary disc present at the time and in the region where the comets formed.This article is part of the themed issue 'Cometary science after Rosetta'.
Project description:The interaction between Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind results in the formation of a collisionless bow shock 60,000-100,000?km upstream of our planet, as long as the solar wind fast magnetosonic Mach (hereafter Mach) number exceeds unity. Here, we present one of those extremely rare instances, when the solar wind Mach number reached steady values <1 for several hours on 17 January 2013. Simultaneous measurements by more than ten spacecraft in the near-Earth environment reveal the evanescence of the bow shock, the sunward motion of the magnetopause and the extremely rapid and intense loss of electrons in the outer radiation belt. This study allows us to directly observe the state of the inner magnetosphere, including the radiation belts during a type of solar wind-magnetosphere coupling which is unusual for planets in our solar system but may be common for close-in extrasolar planets.
Project description:A distinct class of aurora, called transpolar auroral arc (TPA) (in some cases called "theta" aurora), appears in the extremely high-latitude ionosphere of the Earth when interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is northward. The formation and evolution of TPA offers clues about processes transferring energy and momentum from the solar wind to the magnetosphere and ionosphere during a northward IMF. However, their formation mechanisms remain poorly understood and controversial. We report a mechanism identified from multiple-instrument observations of unusually bright, multiple TPAs and simulations from a high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) global MagnetoHydroDynamics (MHD) model. The observations and simulations show an excellent agreement and reveal that these multiple TPAs are generated by precipitating energetic magnetospheric electrons within field-aligned current (FAC) sheets. These FAC sheets are generated by multiple-flow shear sheets in both the magnetospheric boundary produced by Kelvin-Helmholtz instability between supersonic solar wind flow and magnetosphere plasma, and the plasma sheet generated by the interactions between the enhanced earthward plasma flows from the distant tail (less than -100 RE) and the enhanced tailward flows from the near tail (about -20 RE). The study offers insight into the complex solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling processes under a northward IMF condition, and it challenges existing paradigms of the dynamics of the Earth's magnetosphere.
Project description:Saturn's magnetic field acts as an obstacle to solar wind flow, deflecting plasma around the planet and forming a cavity known as the magnetosphere. The magnetopause defines the boundary between the planetary and solar dominated regimes, and so is strongly influenced by the variable nature of pressure sources both outside and within. Following from Pilkington et al. (2014), crossings of the magnetopause are identified using 7 years of magnetic field and particle data from the Cassini spacecraft and providing unprecedented spatial coverage of the magnetopause boundary. These observations reveal a dynamical interaction where, in addition to the external influence of the solar wind dynamic pressure, internal drivers, and hot plasma dynamics in particular can take almost complete control of the system's dayside shape and size, essentially defying the solar wind conditions. The magnetopause can move by up to 10-15 planetary radii at constant solar wind dynamic pressure, corresponding to relatively "plasma-loaded" or "plasma-depleted" states, defined in terms of the internal suprathermal plasma pressure.
Project description:We have observed C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), a recently discovered object on a cometary orbit coming from the Oort cloud that is physically similar to an inner main belt rocky S-type asteroid. Recent dynamical models successfully reproduce the key characteristics of our current solar system; some of these models require significant migration of the giant planets, whereas others do not. These models provide different predictions on the presence of rocky material expelled from the inner solar system in the Oort cloud. C/2014 S3 could be the key to verifying these predictions of the migration-based dynamical models. Furthermore, this object displays a very faint, weak level of comet-like activity, five to six orders of magnitude less than that of typical ice-rich comets on similar Orbits coming from the Oort cloud. For the nearly tailless appearance, we are calling C/2014 S3 a Manx object. Various arguments convince us that this activity is produced by sublimation of volatile ice, that is, normal cometary activity. The activity implies that C/2014 S3 has retained a tiny fraction of the water that is expected to be present at its formation distance in the inner solar system. We may be looking at fresh inner solar system Earth-forming material that was ejected from the inner solar system and preserved for billions of years in the Oort cloud.