Solar wind dynamics around a comet

Abstract : Aims. We aim at analytically modelling the solar wind proton trajectories during their interaction with a partially ionised cometary atmosphere, not in terms of bulk properties of the flow but in terms of single particle dynamics. Methods. We first derive a generalised gyromotion, in which the electric field is reduced to its motional component. Steady-state is assumed, and simplified models of the cometary density and of the electron fluid are used to express the force experienced by individual solar wind protons during the interaction. Results. A three-dimensional (3D) analytical expression of the gyration of two interacting plasma beams is obtained. Applying it to a comet case, the force on protons is always perpendicular to their velocity and has an amplitude proportional to 1/r 2. The solar wind deflection is obtained at any point in space. The resulting picture presents a caustic of intersecting trajectories, and a circular region is found that is completely free of particles. The particles do not lose any kinetic energy and this absence of deceleration, together with the solar wind deflection pattern and the presence of a solar wind ion cavity, is in good agreement with the general results of the Rosetta mission. Conclusions. The qualitative match between the model and the in situ data highlights how dominant the motional electric field is throughout most of the interaction region for the solar wind proton dynamics. The model provides a simple general kinetic description of how momentum is transferred between these two collisionless plasmas. It also shows the potential of this semi-analytical model for a systematic quantitative comparison to the data.
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E. Behar, B. Tabone, M. Saillenfest, Pierre Henri, J. Deca, et al.. Solar wind dynamics around a comet. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, EDP Sciences, 2018, 620, pp.A35. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/201832736⟩. ⟨hal-01954342⟩

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