Determination of interstellar he parameters using five years of data from the IBEX: Beyond closed form approximations

N. A. Schwadron, E. Möbius, T. Leonard, S. A. Fuselier, D. J. McComas, D. Heirtzler, H. Kucharek, F. Rahmanifard, M. Bzowski, M. A. Kubiak, J. M. Sokół, P. Swaczyna, P. Frisch

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Interstellar He represents a key sample of interstellar matter that, due to its high first ionization potential, survives the journey from beyond our solar system's heliospheric boundaries to Earth. Ongoing analysis of interstellar neutral (ISN) He atoms by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) has resulted in a growing sophistication in our understanding of the local interstellar flow. A key feature of the IBEX observations near perihelion of the ISN trajectories is a narrow "tube" of approximately degenerate interstellar parameters. These degenerate solutions provide a tightly coupled relationship between the interstellar flow longitude and latitude, speed, and temperature. However, the IBEX analysis resulting in a specific solution for the inflow longitude, inflow speed, temperature, and inflow latitude was accompanied by a sizeable uncertainty along the parameter tube. Here, we use the three-step method to find the interstellar parameters: (1) the ISN He peak rate in ecliptic longitude uniquely determines a relation (as part of the tube in parameter space) between the longitude and the speed of the He ISN flow at infinity; (2) the ISN He peak latitude (on the great circle swept out in each spin) is compared to simulations to derive unique values for and along the parameter tube; and (3) the angular width of the He flow distributions as a function of latitude is used to derive the interstellar He temperature. For simulated peak latitudes, we use a relatively new analytical tool that traces He atoms from beyond the termination shock into the position of IBEX and incorporates the detailed response function of IBEX-Lo. By varying the interstellar parameters along the IBEX parameter tube, we find the specific parameters that minimize the chi-square difference between observations and simulations. The new computational tool for simulating neutral atoms through the integrated IBEX-Lo response function makes no assumptions or expansions with respect to the spin-axis pointing or frame of reference. Thus, we are able to move beyond closed-form approximations and utilize observations of interstellar He during the complete five year period from 2009 to 2013 when the primary component of interstellar He is most prominent. Chi-square minimization of simulations compared to observations results in a He ISN flow longitude of 75.°6 ± 1.°4, latitude of -5.°12 ± 0.°27, speed of 25.4 ± 1.1 km s-1, and temperature of 8000 ± 1300 K, where the uncertainties are related and apply along the IBEX parameter tube. This paper also provides documentation for a new release of ISN data and associated model runs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number25
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: general
  • local interstellar matter

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    Schwadron, N. A., Möbius, E., Leonard, T., Fuselier, S. A., McComas, D. J., Heirtzler, D., Kucharek, H., Rahmanifard, F., Bzowski, M., Kubiak, M. A., Sokół, J. M., Swaczyna, P., & Frisch, P. (2015). Determination of interstellar he parameters using five years of data from the IBEX: Beyond closed form approximations. Astrophysical Journal, Supplement Series, 220(2), [25].