The free escape continuum of diffuse ions upstream of the Earth's quasi-parallel bow shock

K. J. Trattner, F. Allegrini, M. A. Dayeh, H. O. Funsten, S. A. Fuselier, D. Heirtzler, P. Janzen, H. Kucharek, D. J. McComas, E. Möbius, T. E. Moore, S. M. Petrinec, D. B. Reisenfeld, N. A. Schwadron, P. Wurz

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The Earth's bow shock is very efficient in accelerating ions out of the incident solar wind distribution to high energies (≈ 200 keV/e). Fluxes of energetic ions accelerated at the quasi-parallel bow shock, also known as diffuse ions, are best represented by exponential spectra in energy/charge, which require additional assumptions to be incorporated into these model spectra. One of these assumptions is a so-called "free escape boundary" along the interplanetary magnetic field into the upstream direction. Locations along the IBEX orbit are ideally suited for in situ measurements to investigate the existence of an upstream free escape boundary for bow shock accelerated ions. In this study we use 2 years of ion measurements from the background monitor on the IBEX spacecraft, supported by ACE solar wind observations. The IBEX Background Monitor is sensitive to protons > 14 keV, which includes the energy of the maximum flux for diffuse ions. With increasing distance from the bow shock along the interplanetary magnetic field, the count rates for diffuse ions stay constant for ions streaming away from the bow shock, while count rates for diffuse ions streaming toward the shock gradually decrease from a maximum value to ∼1/e at distances of about 10 RE to 14 RE. These observations of a gradual decrease support the transition to a free escape continuum for ions of energy >14 keV at distances from 10 RE to 14 RE from the bow shock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4425-4434
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


  • energetic ions
  • free escape boundary
  • shock acceleration


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