Charge-exchange coupling between pickup ions across the heliopause and its effect on energetic neutral hydrogen flux

E. J. Zirnstein, J. Heerikhuisen, G. P. Zank, N. V. Pogorelov, D. J. McComas, M. I. Desai

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Pickup ions (PUIs) appear to play an integral role in the multi-component nature of the plasma in the interaction between the solar wind (SW) and local interstellar medium (LISM). Three-dimensional (3D) MHD simulations with a kinetic treatment for neutrals and PUIs are currently still not viable. In light of recent energetic neutral atom (ENA) observations by the Interstellar Boundary EXplorer, the purpose of this paper is to illustrate the complex coupling between PUIs across the heliopause (HP) as facilitated by ENAs using estimates of PUI properties extracted from a 3D MHD simulation of the SW-LISM interaction with kinetic neutrals. First, we improve upon the multi-component treatment of the inner heliosheath (IHS) plasma from Zank et al. by including the extinction of PUIs through charge-exchange. We find a significant amount of energy is transferred away from hot, termination shock-processed PUIs into a colder, "freshly injected" PUI population. Second, we extend the multi-component approach to estimate ENA flux from the outer heliosheath (OHS), formed from charge-exchange between interstellar hydrogen atoms and energetic PUIs. These PUIs are formed from ENAs in the IHS that crossed the HP and experienced charge-exchange. Our estimates, based on plasma-neutral simulations of the SW-LISM interaction and a post-processing analysis of ENAs and PUIs, suggest the majority of flux visible at 1 AU from the front of the heliosphere, between 0.02 and 10 keV, originates from OHS PUIs, indicating strong coupling between the IHS and OHS plasmas through charge-exchange.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number129
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 10 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: bubbles
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • methods: numerical
  • solar wind


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