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The plasma regime at comet Giacobini-Zinner

Advances in Space Research
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0273-1177(85)90064-x
  • Astronomy
  • Mathematics
  • Physics


Abstract This review of the plasma regime sampled by the encounter of the International Cometary Explorer spacecraft (ICE) with the comet Giacobini-Zinner, discusses the shock, or bow wave, ion pickup, ionization mechanisms, and the cometary plasma tail. The observations are consistent with the existence of a weak shock, which may be pulsating, but do not exclude the suggestion by Wallis and Dryer that the shock, though present around the sub-solar point, is in process of decaying to a wave on the flanks. Pickup of cometary ions provokes, by means of several mechanisms, ion cyclotron, mirror, beam and electrostatic instabilities which cause strong turbulence in the inner coma, as indicated in the power spectra of the magnetic field in the coma and the surrounding volume. Heavy mass loading and consequent slowing down of the solar wind is observed. Acceleration of ions by a stochastic mechanism is indicated. Ionization of cometary neutrals occurs principally by photoionization and charge exchange. Alfvens critical velocity mechanism, likely operates only in the inner coma not visited by ICE. A steep increase of nearly two orders of magnitude in electron density occurs in the tail, where electron velocity distributions show evidence of entry of electrons from the solar wind. The turbulence there is damped by the high ion density and low temperature. In general, the vicinity of the comet is filled with plasma phenomena and a rich variety of corresponding atomic and molecular processes can be studied there. Comparison between the ICE, Giotto, and Vega observations forms a most valuable future study.

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