Variations in the heliospheric polar energetic neutral atom flux observed by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer

D. B. Reisenfeld, F. Allegrini, M. Bzowski, G. B. Crew, R. Demajistre, P. Frisch, H. O. Funsten, S. A. Fuselier, P. H. Janzen, M. A. Kubiak, H. Kucharek, D. J. McComas, E. Roelof, N. A. Schwadron

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The ecliptic poles are observed continuously by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX); thus, it is possible to discern temporal variations in the energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) from the outer heliosphere on timescales much shorter than the time it takes for IBEX to generate a full sky map (six months). Observations indicate that the ENA flux from the polar directions incident at Earth has been steadily decreasing for the two-year period from 2008 December through 2011 February. Over the IBEX-Hi energy range, the decrease in flux is energy dependent, varying at the south ecliptic pole from no drop at 0.71keV, to 70% at 1.1keV. At higher energies the drop ranges between 10% and 50%. The decline observed at the north ecliptic pole is as high as 48%, also at 1.1keV. The trend correlates with the steady decline in solar wind dynamic pressure observed at 1AU between 2005 and 2009, the likely period when solar wind protons that provide the source for ENAs observed by IBEX would have been outbound from the Sun. We propose a method by which the correlation between the 1AU solar wind dynamic pressure and the ENA-derived pressure within the inner heliosheath (IHS) can be used to estimate the distance to the termination shock and the thickness of the IHS in the direction of the ecliptic poles. Our new analysis based on IBEX data shows the TS distances to be 110AU and 134AU at the south and north poles, respectively, and the corresponding IHS thicknesses to be 55AU and 82AU. Our analysis is consistent with the notion that the observed ENA fluxes originate in the IHS and their variations are driven by the solar wind as it evolves through the solar cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 10 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: general
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • plasmas
  • solar wind


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