Turbulent Acceleration of Interstellar Pickup Ions at the Heliospheric Termination Shock Forms the Global ENA Spectrum

E. J. Zirnstein, R. Kumar, R. Bandyopadhyay, M. A. Dayeh, J. Heerikhuisen, D. J. McComas

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The heliospheric energetic neutral atom spectrum observed by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) reveals that the heliosheath proton distribution is consistent with a power law. The origin of the spectrum is likely from interstellar pickup ions (PUIs) accelerated at the heliospheric termination shock (HTS). We present an explanation of the proton spectrum origin using a test particle simulation of PUIs accelerated at the HTS. PUIs experience preferential heating by the motional electric field in the shock foot, but do not develop a power-law tail without the presence of turbulence at wavenumbers (k) close to the PUI gyroradius scale (R g). Voyager 2 observations of the magnetic field downstream of the HTS indicate a moderate amount of turbulence at kR g ≅ 1, which we find to be sufficient for producing a downstream suprathermal PUI tail but not at intensities observed by IBEX. Within the shock ramp, however, Voyager observed the turbulence power at much smaller scales to be nearly 100 times stronger, suggesting the possibility of strong turbulence at the PUI gyroradius scale. We show that a proton distribution can develop a power law downstream of the HTS consistent with IBEX observations if at kR g ≅ 1 in the shock foot. Shock drift acceleration of PUIs by the motional electric field is aided by interactions with turbulence upstream of the shock overshoot. Steepening of the IBEX proton spectrum in directions farther from the heliospheric nose suggests the HTS compression ratio and/or turbulence power weakens near the heliotail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL21
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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