Mass Loading of Space Plasmas

University essay from Luleå tekniska universitet/Rymdteknik

Abstract: The solar wind interaction with an icy comet is studied through a model problem. A hybrid simulation is done of a box with evenly distributed water ions and protons, where initially the water ions are stationary, and protons move with the speed of the solar wind. The purpose of the thesis is to investigate the interaction between the two species through the convective electric field, and focus is on early acceleration of pick-up ions, and deflection of the solar wind. It is relevant to the cometary case, because it enables study of the physics of this interaction, without involving other mechanisms, such as bow shock, magnetic field pile-up and draping. The species are found to exchange kinetic energy similar to a damped oscillator, where the dampening is caused by kinetic energy being transferred to the magnetic field. At early times, i.e. times smaller than the gyration time for the water ions, the solar wind does not lose much speed when it is deflected. For comparable number densities, the solar wind can be deflected more than 90° at early times, and loses more speed, and water ions are picked up faster. The total kinetic energy of the system decreases when energy builds up in the magnetic field. The nature of the energy exchange is strongly dependent on the number density ratio between water ions and protons. A density instability with behaviour similar to a plasma beam instability forms as energy in the magnetic field increases, and limits the amount of time the simulation preserves total energy, for the particular hybrid solver used. There is a discussion on the structure of the density instability, and it is compared to cometary simulations.

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