Magnetospheric imaging with low-energy neutral atoms

D. J. McComas, B. L. Barraclough, R. C. Elphic, H. O. Funsten, M. F. Thomsen

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33 Scopus citations


Global imaging of the magnetospheric charged particle population can be achieved by remote measurement of the neutral atoms produced when magnetospheric ions undergo charge exchange with cold exospheric neutral atoms. Previously suggested energetic neutral atom imagers were only able to measure neutral atoms with energies typically greater than several tens of keV. A laboratory prototype has been built and tested for a different type of space plasma neutral imaging instrument, which allows neutral atoms to be imaged down to <1 keV. Such low-energy measurements provide greater sensitivity for imaging the terrestrial magnetosphere and allow the bulk of the magnetospheric ion distribution, typically centered below 10 keV, to be observed rather than just the high-energy tail of the distribution. The low-energy neutral atom measurements are made possible by utilizing charge state modifications that occur when an initially neutral atom passes through an ultrathin carbon foil. Oxygen, for example, is highly electronegative, and for energies of ≈ 10-30 keV, the O- yield is ≈30%, essentially independent of the charge state of the incident oxygen atom. These ions are energy per charge analyzed, and the UV background is rejected by using an electrostatic analyzer. Imaging of other ion species, such as hydrogen, could also be accomplished by using ultrathin foil-induced charge state modifications. The technique described in this paper provides a method for imaging charge exchange neutrals from the terrestrial magnetosphere and would also have applications for similar imaging in other planetary or cometary environs. The Inner Magnetosphere Imaging Mission, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is presently considering, would provide a nearly ideal platform for low-energy neutral atom imaging, and such measurements would substantially enhance the scientific yield of this mission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9598-9602
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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