Rosetta spacecraft potential and activity evolution of comet 67P
2016 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
The plasma environment of an active comet provides a unique setting for plasma physics research. The complex interaction of newly created cometary ions with the flowing plasma of the solar wind gives rise to a plethora of plasma physics phenomena, that can be studied over a large range of activity levels as the distance to the sun, and hence the influx of solar energy, varies. In this thesis, we have used measurements of the spacecraft potential by the Rosetta Langmuir probe instrument (LAP) to study the evolution of activity of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it approached the sun from 3.6 AU in August 2014 to 2.1 AU in March 2015. The measurements are validated by cross-calibration to a fully independent measurement by an electrostatic analyzer, the Ion Composition Analyzer (ICA), also on board Rosetta.
The spacecraft was found to be predominantly negatively charged during the time covered by our investigation, driven so by a rather high electron temperature of ~5 eV resulting from the low collision rate between electrons and the tenuous neutral gas. The spacecraft potential exhibited a clear covariation with the neutral density as measured by the ROSINA Comet Pressure Sensor (COPS) on board Rosetta. As the spacecraft potential depends on plasma density and electron temperature, this shows that the neutral gas and the plasma are closely coupled. The neutral density and negative spacecraft potential were higher in the northern hemisphere, which experienced summer conditions during the investigated period due to the nucleus spin axis being tilted toward the sun. In this hemisphere, we found a clear variation of spacecraft potential with comet longitude, exactly as seen for the neutral gas, with coincident peaks in neutral density and spacecraft potential magnitude roughly every 6 h, when sunlit parts of the neck region of the bi- lobed nucleus were in view of the spacecraft. The plasma density was estimated to have increased during the investigated time period by a factor of 8-12 in the northern hemisphere and possibly as much as a factor of 20-44 in the southern hemisphere, due to the combined effects of seasonal changes and decreasing heliocentric distance.
The spacecraft potential measurements obtained by LAP generally exhibited good correlation with the estimates from ICA, confirming the accuracy of both of these instruments for measurements of the spacecraft potential.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 2016. , 80 p.
Rosetta, comet, 67P, RPC-LAP, RPC-MIP, Langmuir probe, spacecraft potential, plasma
Research subject Physics with specialization in Space and Plasma Physics
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-294395OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-294395DiVA: diva2:929762
2016-06-02, Häggsalen, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala, 10:00 (English)
FunderSwedish National Space Board, 109/12, 135/13, 166/14Swedish Research Council, 621-2013-4191
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