Interstellar pick-up ions observed between 11 and 22 au by new horizons

B. M. Randol, D. J. McComas, N. A. Schwadron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


We report new observations by the Solar Wind Around Pluto instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft, which measures energy per charge (E/q) spectra of solar wind and interstellar pick-up ions (PUIs) between 11 AU and 22 AU from the Sun. The data provide an unprecedented look at PUIs as there have been very few measurements of PUIs beyond 10 AU. We analyzed the PUI part of the spectra by comparing them to the classic Vasyliunas and Siscoe PUI model. Our analysis indicates that PUIs are usually well-described by this distribution. We derive parameters relevant to PUI studies, such as the ionization rate normalized to 1 AU. Our result for the average ionization rate between 11 and 12 AU agrees with an independently derived average value found during the same time. Later, we find a general increase in the ionization rate, which is consistent with the increase in solar activity. We also calculate the PUI thermal pressure, which appears to be roughly consistent with previous results. Through fitting of the solar wind proton peaks in our spectra, we derive solar wind thermal pressures. Based on our analysis, we predict a ratio of PUI thermal pressure to solar wind thermal pressure just inside the termination shock to be between 100 and >1000.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 10 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • solar wind


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