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Cold electrons at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Space Plasma Physics. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala Division. (RPF)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0957-3847
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala Division.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2926-6761
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Uppsala Division.
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2018 (English)In: Astronomy and Astrophysics, ISSN 0004-6361, E-ISSN 1432-0746Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

Context. The electron temperature of the plasma is one important aspect of the environment. Electrons created by photoionization or impact ionization of atmospheric gas have energies ∼10 eV. In an active comet coma the gas density is high enough for rapid cooling of the electron gas to the neutral gas temperature (few hundred kelvin). How cooling evolves in less active comets has not been studied before.

Aims. To investigate how electron cooling varied as comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko changed its activity by three orders of magnitude during the Rosetta mission.Methods. We use in-situ data from Rosetta plasma and neutral gas sensors. By combining Langmuir probe bias voltage sweeps and Mutual Impedance Probe measurements we determine when cold electrons form at least 25% of the total electron density. We compare the results to what is expected from simple models of electron cooling, using the observed neutral gas density as input.

Results. We demonstrate that the slope of the Langmuir probe sweep can be used as a proxy for cold electron presence. We show statistics of cold electron observations over the 2 year mission period. We find cold electrons at lower activity than expected by a simple model based on free radial expansion and continuous loss of electron energy. Cold electrons are seen mainly when the gas density indicates an exobase may have formed.

Conclusions. Collisional cooling of electrons following a radial outward path is not sufficient for explaining the observations. We suggest the ambipolar electric field is important for the observed cooling. This field keeps electrons in the inner coma for much longer time, giving them time to dissipate energy by collisions with the neutrals. We conclude there is need of better models to describe the plasma environment of comets, including at least two populations of electrons and the ambipolar field.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
National Category
Fusion, Plasma and Space Physics
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Space and Plasma Physics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-348472OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-348472DiVA, id: diva2:1198623
Available from: 2018-04-18 Created: 2018-04-18 Last updated: 2018-04-19Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Plasma and Dust around Icy Moon Enceladus and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Plasma and Dust around Icy Moon Enceladus and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Saturn's moon Enceladus and comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko both are examples of icy solar system objects from which gas and dust flow into space. At both bodies, the gas becomes partly ionized and the dust grains get charged. Both bodies have been visited by spacecraft carrying similar Langmuir probe instruments for observing the plasma and the charged dust. As it turns out, the conditions at Enceladus and the comet are different and we emphasize different aspects of their plasma environments. At Enceladus, we concentrate on the characteristic plasma regions and charged dust. At the comet, we investigate the plasma and in particular plasmavariations and cold electrons.

At Enceladus, internal frictional heating leads to gas escaping from cracks in the ice from the south pole region. This causes a plume of gas, which becomes partially ionized, and dust, becoming charged. We have investigated the plasma and charged nanodust in this region by the use of the Langmuir probe (LP) of the Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument on Cassini. The dust charge density can be calculated from the quasineutrality condition, the difference between ion and electron density measurements from LP. We found support for this method by comparing to measurements of larger dust grains by the RPWS electric antennas. We use the LP method to find that the plasma and dust environment of Enceladus can be divided into at least three regions. In addition to the well known plume, these are the plume edge and the trail region.

At the comet, heat from the Sun sublimates ice to gas dragging dust along as it flows out into space. When the neutral gas molecules are ionized, by photoionization and electron impact ionization, we get a plasma. Models predict that the electron temperature just after ionization is around 10 eV, but that collisions with the neutral gas should cool the electron gas to below 0.1 eV. We used the Langmuir probe instrument (LAP) on Rosetta to estimate plasma temperatures and show a co-existence of cold and warm electrons in the plasma. We find that the cold plasma often is observed as brief pulses not only in the LAP data but also in the measurements of magnetic field, plasma density and ion energy by other Rosetta plasma instruments. We interpret these pulses as filaments of plasma propagating outwards from a diamagnetic cavity, as predicted by hybrid simulations. The gas production rate of comet 67P varied by more than three orders of magnitude during the Rosetta mission (up to March 2016). We therefore have an excellent opportunity to investigate how the electron cooling in a cometary coma evolves with activity. We used a method combining LAP and the Mutual Impedance Probe (MIP) for deriving the presence of cold electrons. We show that cold electrons were present intermittently during a large part of the mission and as far out as 3 AU. Models suggest only negligible cooling and we suggest that the ambipolar field keeps the electrons close to the nucleus and giving them more time to lose energy by collision.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2018. p. 94
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISSN 1651-6214 ; 1673
National Category
Fusion, Plasma and Space Physics
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Space and Plasma Physics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-348856 (URN)978-91-513-0346-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-06-11, 2001, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala, 13:00 (English)
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Available from: 2018-05-18 Created: 2018-04-18 Last updated: 2018-05-18

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Eriksson, AndersVigren, Erik

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