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Small is different: RPC observations of a small scale comet interacting with the solar wind

Abstract : Rosetta followed comet 67P from low activity at more than 3 AU heliocentric distance to peak activity at perihelion and then out again. We study the evolution of the dynamic plasma environment using data from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC). Observations of cometary plasma began in August 2014, at a distance of 100 km from the comet nucleus and at 3.6 AU from the Sun. As the comet approached the Sun, outgassing from the comet increased, as did the density of the cometary plasma. Measurements showed a highly heterogeneous cold ion environment, permeated by the solar wind. The solar wind was deflected due to the mass loading from newly added cometary plasma, with no discernible slowing down. The magnetic field magnitude increased significantly above the background level, and strong low frequency waves were observed in the magnetic field, a.k.a. the "singing comet". Electron temperatures were high, leading to a frequently strongly negative spacecraft potential. In mid to late April 2015 the solar wind started to disappear from the observation region. This was associated with a solar wind deflection reaching nearly 180°, indicating that mass loading became efficient enough to form a solar wind-free region. Accelerated water ions, moving mainly in the anti-sunward direction, kept being observed also after the solar wind disappearance. Plasma boundaries began to form and a collisionopause was tentatively identified in the ion and electron data. At the time around perihelion, a diamagnetic cavity was also observed, at a surprisingly large distance from the comet. In late 2016 the solar wind re-appeared at the location of Rosetta, allowing for studies of asymmetry of the comet ion environment with respect to perihelion. A nightside excursion allowed us to get a glimpse of the electrodynamics of the innermost part of the plasma tail. Most of these phenomena are dependent on the small-scale physics of comet 67P, since for most of the Rosetta mission the solar wind - comet atmosphere interaction region is smaller than the pickup ion gyroradius in the undisturbed solar wind.
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Contributor : Nathalie POTHIER Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Monday, February 14, 2022 - 5:11:26 PM
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Hans Nilsson, James L. Burch, Christopher M. Carr, Anders I. Eriksson, Karl-Heinz Glassmeier, et al.. Small is different: RPC observations of a small scale comet interacting with the solar wind. American Astronomical Society, 2016, à renseigner, Unknown Region. ⟨insu-03573499⟩



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