Microstructure of the heliospheric termination shock: Implications for energetic neutral atom observations

G. P. Zank, J. Heerikhuisen, N. V. Pogorelov, R. Burrows, D. McComas

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The Voyager 2 plasma observations of the proton distribution function downstream of the quasi-perpendicular heliospheric termination shock (TS) showed that upstream thermal solar wind ions played little role in the shock dissipation mechanism, being essentially transmitted directly through the shock. Instead, the hot supra-thermal pickup ion (PUI) component is most likely responsible for the dissipation at the TS. Consequently, the downstream proton distribution function will be a complicated superposition of relatively cool thermal solar wind protons and hot PUIs that have experienced either direct transmission or reflection at the TS cross-shock potential. We develop a simple model for the TS microstructure that allows us to construct approximate proton distribution functions for the inner heliosheath. The distribution function models are compared to κ-distributions, showing the correspondence between the two. Since the interpretation of energetic neutral atom (ENA) fluxes measured at 1 AU by IBEX will depend sensitively on the form of the underlying proton distribution function, we use a three-dimensional MHD-kinetic global model to model ENA spectra at 1 AU and ENA skymaps across the IBEX energy range. We consider both solar minimum and solar maximum-like global models, showing how ENA skymap structure can be related to global heliospheric structure. We suggest that the ENA spectra may allow us to probe the directly the microphysics of the TS, while the ENA skymaps reveal heliospheric structure and, at certain energies, are distinctly different during solar minimum and maximum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1092-1106
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Acceleration of particles
  • ISM: atoms
  • Plasmas
  • Shock waves
  • Stars: winds, outflows


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