The Velocity Distribution of Pickup He+ Measured at 3.0 AU By Messenger

Gershman, Daniel J.; Fisk, Lennard A.; Gloeckler, George; Raines, Jim M.; Slavin, James A.; Zurbuchen, Thomas H.; Solomon, Sean C.

During its interplanetary trajectory in 2007–2009, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvrionment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft passed through the gravitational focusing cone for interstellar helium multiple times at a heliocentric distance R ≈ 0.3 AU. Observations of He+ interstellar pickup ions made by the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer sensor on MESSENGER during these transits provide a glimpse into the structure of newly formed inner heliospheric pickup-ion distributions. This close to the Sun, these ions are picked up in a nearly radial interplanetary magnetic field. Compared with the near-Earth environment, pickup ions observed near 0.3 AU will not have had sufficient time to be energized substantially. Such an environment results in a nearly pristine velocity distribution function that should depend only on pickup-ion injection velocities (related to the interstellar gas), pitch-angle scattering, and cooling processes. From measured energy-per-charge spectra obtained during multiple spacecraft observational geometries, we have deduced the phase-space density of He+ as a function of magnetic pitch angle. Our measurements are most consistent with a distribution that decreases nearly monotonically with increasing pitch angle, rather than the more commonly modeled isotropic or hemispherically symmetric forms. These results imply that pitch-angle scattering of He+ may not be instantaneous, as is often assumed, and instead may reflect the velocity distribution of initially injected particles. In a slow solar wind stream, we find a parallel-scattering mean free path of λ ∼ 0.1 AU and a He+ production rate of ∼0.05 m−3 s−1 within 0.3 AU.

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The Astrophysical Journal

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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Published Here
September 27, 2015