Mixing Interstellar Clouds Surrounding the Sun

Paweł Swaczyna, Nathan A. Schwadron, Eberhard Möbius, Maciej Bzowski, Priscilla C. Frisch, Jeffrey L. Linsky, David J. McComas, Fatemeh Rahmanifard, Seth Redfield, Réka M. Winslow, Brian E. Wood, Gary P. Zank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


On its journey through the Galaxy, the Sun passes through diverse regions of the interstellar medium. High-resolution spectroscopic measurements of interstellar absorption lines in spectra of nearby stars show absorption components from more than a dozen warm partially ionized clouds within 15 pc of the Sun. The two nearest clouds—the Local Interstellar Cloud (LIC) and Galactic (G) cloud—move toward each other. Their bulk heliocentric velocities can be compared with the interstellar neutral helium flow velocity obtained from space-based experiments. We combine recent results from Ulysses, IBEX, and STEREO observations to find a more accurate estimate of the velocity and temperature of the very local interstellar medium. We find that, contrary to the widespread viewpoint that the Sun resides inside the LIC, the locally observed velocity of the interstellar neutral helium is consistent with a linear combination of the velocities of the LIC and G cloud, but not with either of these two velocities. This finding shows that the Sun travels through a mixed-cloud interstellar medium composed of material from both these clouds. Interactions between these clouds explain the substantially higher density of the interstellar hydrogen near the Sun and toward stars located within the interaction region of these two clouds. The observed asymmetry of the interstellar helium distribution function also supports this interaction. The structure and equilibrium in this region require further studies using in situ and telescopic observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL32
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Heliosphere
  • Intercloud medium
  • Interstellar absorption
  • Interstellar atomic gas
  • Interstellar clouds
  • Interstellar dynamics
  • Interstellar medium
  • Interstellar medium wind


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