Solar wind at 33 AU: Setting bounds on the Pluto interaction for New Horizons

F. Bagenal, P. A. Delamere, H. A. Elliott, M. E. Hill, C. M. Lisse, D. J. McComas, R. L. McNutt, J. D. Richardson, C. W. Smith, D. F. Strobel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flies past Pluto on 14 July 2015, carrying two instruments that detect charged particles. Pluto has a tenuous, extended atmosphere that is escaping the planet's weak gravity. The interaction of the solar wind with Pluto's escaping atmosphere depends on solar wind conditions as well as the vertical structure of Pluto's atmosphere. We have analyzed Voyager 2 particles and fields measurements between 25 and 39 AU and present their statistical variations. We have adjusted these predictions to allow for the Sun's declining activity and solar wind output. We summarize the range of SW conditions that can be expected at 33 AU and survey the range of scales of interaction that New Horizons might experience. Model estimates for the solar wind standoff distance vary from ~7 to ~1000 RP with our best estimate being around 40 RP (where we take Pluto's radius to be RP = 1184 km).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1497-1511
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Pluto
  • solar wind


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