Abstract Ion cyclotron waves are generated in the solar wind when it picks up freshly ionized planetary exospheric ions. These waves grow from the free energy of the highly anisotropic distribution of fresh pickup ions, and are observed in the spacecraft frame with left-handed polarization and a wave frequency near the ion’s gyrofrequency. At Mars and Venus and in the Earth’s polar cusp, the solar wind directly interacts with the planetary exospheres. Ion cyclotron waves with many similar properties are observed in these diverse plasma environments. The ion cyclotron waves at Mars indicate its hydrogen exosphere to be extensive and asymmetric in the direction of the interplanetary electric field. The production of fast neutrals plays an important role in forming an extended exosphere in the shape and size observed. At Venus, the region of exospheric proton cyclotron wave production may be restricted to the magnetosheath. The waves observed in the solar wind at Venus appear to be largely produced by the solar-wind–Venus interaction, with some waves at higher frequencies formed near the Sun and carried outward by the solar wind to Venus. These waves have some similarity to the expected properties of exospherically produced proton pickup waves but are characterized by magnetic connection to the bow shock or by a lack of correlation with local solar wind properties respectively. Any confusion of solar derived waves with exospherically derived ion pickup waves is not an issue at Mars because the solar-produced waves are generally at much higher frequencies than the local pickup waves and the solar waves should be mostly absorbed when convected to Mars distance as the proton cyclotron frequency in the plasma frame approaches the frequency of the solar-produced waves. In the Earth’s polar cusp, the wave properties of ion cyclotron waves are quite variable. Spatial gradients in the magnetic field may cause this variation as the background field changes between the regions in which the fast neutrals are produced and where they are re-ionized and picked up. While these waves were discovered early in the magnetospheric exploration, their generation was not understood until after we had observed similar waves in the exospheres of Mars and Venus.