Warm breeze from the starboard bow: A new population of neutral helium in the heliosphere

M. A. Kubiak, M. Bzowski, J. M. Sokół, P. Swaczyna, S. Grzedzielski, D. B. Alexashov, V. V. Izmodenov, E. Möbius, T. Leonard, S. A. Fuselier, P. Wurz, D. J. McComas

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80 Scopus citations


We investigate the signals from neutral helium atoms observed in situ from Earth orbit in 2010 by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX). The full helium signal observed during the 2010 observation season can be explained as a superposition of pristine neutral interstellar He gas and an additional population of neutral helium that we call the Warm Breeze. The Warm Breeze is approximately 2 times slower and 2.5 times warmer than the primary interstellar He population, and its density in front of the heliosphere is 7% that of the neutral interstellar helium. The inflow direction of the Warm Breeze differs by 19° from the inflow direction of interstellar gas. The Warm Breeze seems to be a long-term, perhaps permanent feature of the heliospheric environment. It has not been detected earlier because it is strongly ionized inside the heliosphere. This effect brings it below the threshold of detection via pickup ion and heliospheric backscatter glow observations, as well as by the direct sampling of GAS/Ulysses. We discuss possible sources for the Warm Breeze, including (1) the secondary population of interstellar helium, created via charge exchange and perhaps elastic scattering of neutral interstellar He atoms on interstellar He+ ions in the outer heliosheath, or (2) a gust of interstellar He originating from a hypothetic wave train in the Local Interstellar Cloud. A secondary population is expected from models, but the characteristics of the Warm Breeze do not fully conform to modeling results. If, nevertheless, this is the explanation, IBEX-Lo observations of the Warm Breeze provide key insights into the physical state of plasma in the outer heliosheath. If the second hypothesis is true, the source is likely to be located within a few thousand AU from the Sun, which is the propagation range of possible gusts of interstellar neutral helium with the Warm Breeze characteristics against dissipation via elastic scattering in the Local Cloud. Whatever the nature of the Warm Breeze, its discovery exposes a critical new feature of our heliospheric environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number29
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: atoms
  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • Sun: heliosphere
  • local interstellar matter
  • scattering
  • solar neighborhood


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