The structure of a cometary Type I tail: Ground‐based and ice observations of P/Giacobini‐Zinner

J. A. Slavin, B. A. Goldberg, E. J. Smith, D. J. McComas, S. J. Bame, M. A. Strauss, H. Spinrad

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The in situ magnetic field and plasma measurements from the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) Mission obtained on September 11, 1985 are compared with CCD images of P/Giacobini‐Zinner (G‐Z) acquired with the 3.6 m Canada‐France‐Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and a slit spectrogram from Lick Observatory during the same period. The CFHT image at ∼3.5 hr after the ICE encounter showed a short central ion tail with a diameter of ∼3 × 10³ km and a length of ∼2 × 104 km as observed in the H2O+ bandpass centered at 7025 Å. There was no distinct evidence of fine structure or ray activity. The Lick spectrogram of the H2O+ emissions taken ∼0.5 hr post‐encounter with the slit perpendicular to the sun‐comet line showed an ion tail with a diameter of 1.2 × 104 km. The ICE observations revealed a well defined 9.6 × 10³ km diameter magnetotail composed of two magnetic lobes in pressure equilibrium with a high beta central plasma sheet. These differing measures of tail width are found to be mutually consistent if the ion emissions observed at Earth originate in a slab‐shaped plasma sheet whose orientation is controlled by the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field. The results of this study also suggest that some thinning and thickening of cometary type I tails, usually attributed to plasma instabilities, may be due to changes in the angle at which the plasma sheet is viewed as IMF direction varies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1085-1088
Number of pages4
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1986
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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