Solar Wind Interactions
Will Barley and Ray Greenwell
I. Intro to Plasma
A. 4 states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma
II. Solar Wind
1. As gas is heated, it dissociates into an atomic
gas that is ionized as the collisions between
atoms are able to free the outermost electrons.
B. Because some or all of the particles are charged and capable of
creating and interacting with electromagnetic fields, many phenomena
not present in ordinary states are found in plasmas.
2. Plasma is a mix of neutral particles, positive ions, and
C. Most of the universe exists in a plasma state.
A. The first indication that the sun had "wind" came from the
tails of comets.
III. Interaction with the Earth
1. They were observed to always point away from the sun, whether
the comet was approaching or moving away from the sun.
B. In 1958, Eugene Parker tried to derive the equilibrium structure
of the corona.
2. Dust tails pushed away by the pressure from the sunlight.
3. Ion tails point away also, and sometimes appeared kinked or bent.
Sunlight pressure cannot explain this.
4. A "solar corpuscular radiation" proposed to explain this.
1. He found that topmost layers of corona flowed away from the
C. Solar wind facts
2. Named "solar wind".
3. Its existence was later confirmed by experiments aboard
1. Density at earth's orbit: about 6 ions per cubic centimeter
2. Ions generally resemble distribution of elements in the sun:
mostly protons, 5% helium, traces of oxygen and other elements.
3. Flows away with a mean speed of about 400km/sec
4. Flows out more than 30 times more distant from the sun than
A. Interplanetary Magnetic Field
IV. Ulysses Mission
1. Solar wind carries solar field lines, filling interplanetary
2. IMF allows solar wind to pick up ions (producing comet tails).
3. IMF plays a major role in linking the magnetosphere to the
a. drives magnetospheric convection system
b. creates magnetic storms and substorms
c. powers the aurora
d. heats polar upper atmosphere
e. drives large neutral atmospheric winds
f. energizes much of the plasma on the Earth's magnetic field
1. Pressure of solar wind modifies the form of the
C. Geomagnetic storms
a. On dayside it is about 10 Earth radii.
2. Magnetosphere is filled with plasma that originates from
ionosphere and solar wind.
b. On nightside, it is about 100 Earth radii.
3. Solar wind cannot enter Earth's magnetic field.
1. Result of major variations in IMF intensity and direction.
2. Effects are of practical importance to us:
a. Current surges: causing flickering lights & blackouts.
b. Static interference and interrupted transmission of radio,
television, and telephone signals.
c. Erratic behavior of navigation instruments
d. Disruption of defense communications: Early Warning radar
e. Alterations in ozone layer.
A. Designed to explore interplanetary space at high solar
V. Ulysses Results
1. No man made launch vehicle could provide the needed velocity
to achieve high latitudes.
B. Ulysses spacecraft was designed to characterize the
heliosphere as a function of solar latitude.
2. Ulysses was aimed close to Jupiter so that the large
gravitational field would accelerate Ulysses out of the elliptic
3. Ulysses' mission timed to coincide with quiet portion of 11
1. Regions higher than 70 degrees latitude were its main
C. Scientists have long been aware that there are major
differences in the sun between the polar regions and the lower
2. No previous spacecraft have reached solar latitudes higher
than 32 degrees.
1. Sun spots are only seen at lower latitudes.
2. Photos of the solar corona taken during eclipses often show
dark regions over the poles.
3. Magnetic field lines that leave the solar surface usually
return to it, but some field lines, particularly those over the
poles extend deep into interplanetary space.
4. Solar wind expands into interplanetary space along these
5. The dark areas are where hot gas escapes because of low gas
A. Solar wind has variations in both speed and density.
1. At high latitudes the velocity is high and the density low.
B. Ulysses found that the amount of magnetic flux in the solar
wind did not vary greatly with latitude. This is an indication of
the importance of pressure forces near the sun for evenly
distributing magnetic flux.
2. Near the equator, the velocity is low and the density is
3. Near the poles, the solar wind escapes at a steady speed,
C. New findings on composition and temperature.
1. Low speed streams have a higher ratio of Magnesium to Oxygen.
D. Diffusion of cosmic rays in the heliosphere.
2. Low speed solar wind has much higher temperature: over 1.6
million degrees, indicative of a hot coronal source.
3. The temperature/composition differences turn out to be a much
better way to differentiate solar winds than speed.
1. Magnetic field lines of the sun are "wound up" in a spiral
pattern due to the rotation of the sun.
2. Near the poles the rotation velocity is lower due to the rotation
of the sun.
3. So the azimuthal magnetic fields are weaker.
4. The length of the magnetic field to the boundary of the
heliosphere where cosmic rays enter the solar system is less.
A. Shape and character of gases controlled by magnetic fields.
B. Major differences in location of solar wind origins.
C. By learning more about the solar wind, we can understand our
own atmosphere and weather.