The Pickup Ion-mediated Solar Wind

G. P. Zank, L. Adhikari, L. L. Zhao, P. Mostafavi, E. J. Zirnstein, D. J. McComas

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91 Scopus citations


The New Horizons Solar Wind Around Pluto (NH SWAP) instrument has provided the first direct observations of interstellar H+ and He+ pickup ions (PUIs) at distances between ∼11.26 and 38 au in the solar wind. The observations demonstrate that the distant solar wind beyond the hydrogen ionization cavity is indeed mediated by PUIs. The creation of PUIs modifies the underlying low-frequency turbulence field responsible for their own scattering. The dissipation of these low-frequency fluctuations serves to heat the solar wind plasma, and accounts for the observed non-adiabatic solar wind temperature profile and a possible slow temperature increase beyond ∼30 au. We develop a very general theoretical model that incorporates PUIs, solar wind thermal plasma, the interplanetary magnetic field, and low-frequency turbulence to describe the evolution of the large-scale solar wind, PUIs, and turbulence from 184 au, the structure of the perpendicular heliospheric termination shock, and the transmission of turbulence into the inner heliosheath, extending the classical models of Holzer and Isenberg. A detailed comparison of the theoretical model solutions and observations derived from the Voyager 2 and NH SWAP data sets shows excellent agreement between the two for reasonable physical parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • local interstellar matter
  • solar wind


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