Open solar flux estimates from near-Earth measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field: Comparison of the first two perihelion passes of the Ulysses spacecraft

M. Lockwood, R. B. Forsyth, A. Balogh, D. J. McComas

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Results from all phases of the orbits of the Ulysses spacecraft have shown that the magnitude of the radial component of the heliospheric field is approximately independent of heliographic latitude. This result allows the use of near-Earth observations to compute the total open flux of the Sun. For example, using satellite observations of the interplanetary magnetic field, the average open solar flux was shown to have risen by 29% between 1963 and 1987 and using the aa geomagnetic index it was found to have doubled during the 20th century. It is therefore important to assess fully the accuracy of the result and to check that it applies to all phases of the solar cycle. The first perihelion pass of the Ulysses spacecraft was close to sunspot minimum, and recent data from the second perihelion pass show that the result also holds at solar maximum. The high level of correlation between the open flux derived from the various methods strongly supports the Ulysses discovery that the radial field component is independent of latitude. We show here that the errors introduced into open solar flux estimates by assuming that the heliospheric field's radial component is independent of latitude are similar for the two passes and are of order 25% for daily values, falling to 5% for averaging timescales of 27 days or greater. We compare here the results of four methods for estimating the open solar flux with results from the first and second perehelion passes by Ulysses. We find that the errors are lowest (1-5% for averages over the entire perehelion passes lasting near 320 days), for near-Earth methods, based on either interplanetary magnetic field observations or the aa geomagnetic activity index. The corresponding errors for the Solanki et al. (2000) model are of the order of 9-15% and for the PFSS method, based on solar magnetograms, are of the order of 13-47%. The model of Solanki et al. is based on the continuity equation of open flux, and uses the sunspot number to quantify the rate of open flux emergence. It predicts that the average open solar flux has been decreasing since 1987, as is observed in the variation of all the estimates of the open flux. This decline combines with the solar cycle variation to produce an open flux during the second (sunspot maximum) perihelion pass of Ulysses which is only slightly larger than that during the first (sunspot minimum) perihelion pass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1395-1405
Number of pages11
JournalAnnales Geophysicae
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Interplanetary physics (interplanetary magnetic fields)
  • Solar physics, astrophysics and astronomy (magnetic fields)


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