E. J. Zirnstein, J. Heerikhuisen, H. O. Funsten, G. Livadiotis, D. J. McComas, N. V. Pogorelov

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The solar wind emanating from the Sun interacts with the local interstellar medium (LISM), forming the heliosphere. Hydrogen energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) produced by the solar-interstellar interaction carry important information about plasma properties from the boundaries of the heliosphere, and are currently being measured by NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). IBEX observations show the existence of a "ribbon" of intense ENA emission projecting a circle on the celestial sphere that is centered near the local interstellar magnetic field (ISMF) vector. Here we show that the source of the IBEX ribbon as a function of ENA energy outside the heliosphere, uniquely coupled to the draping of the ISMF around the heliopause, can be used to precisely determine the magnitude (2.93 ±0.08 μG) and direction (227.°28 ±0.°69, 34.°62 ±0.°45 in ecliptic longitude and latitude) of the pristine ISMF far (∼1000 AU) from the Sun. We find that the ISMF vector is offset from the ribbon center by ∼8.°3 toward the direction of motion of the heliosphere through the LISM, and their vectors form a plane that is consistent with the direction of deflected interstellar neutral hydrogen, thought to be controlled by the ISMF. Our results yield draped ISMF properties close to that observed by Voyager 1, the only spacecraft to directly measure the ISMF close to the heliosphere, and give predictions of the pristine ISMF that Voyager 1 has yet to sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL18
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • solar wind

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