Imperial College London


Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Physics

Reader in Planetary Science



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117 results found

Henri P, Vallières X, Hajra R, Goetz C, Richter I, Glassmeier K-H, Galand M, Rubin M, Eriksson AI, Nemeth Z, Vigren E, Beth A, Burch JL, Carr C, Nilsson H, Tsurutani B, Wattieaux Get al., 2017, Diamagnetic region(s): structure of the unmagnetized plasma around Comet 67P/CG, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 469, Pages: S372-S379, ISSN: 0035-8711

The ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta has monitored the evolution of the ionized atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P/CG) and its interaction with the solar wind, during more than 2 yr. Around perihelion, while the cometary outgassing rate was highest, Rosetta crossed hundreds of unmagnetized regions, but did not seem to have crossed a large-scale diamagnetic cavity as anticipated. Using in situ Rosetta observations, we characterize the structure of the unmagnetized plasma found around comet 67P/CG. Plasma density measurements from RPC-MIP are analysed in the unmagnetized regions identified with RPC-MAG. The plasma observations are discussed in the context of the cometary escaping neutral atmosphere, observed by ROSINA/COPS. The plasma density in the different diamagnetic regions crossed by Rosetta ranges from ∼100 to ∼1500 cm−3. They exhibit a remarkably systematic behaviour that essentially depends on the comet activity and the cometary ionosphere expansion. An effective total ionization frequency is obtained from in situ observations during the high outgassing activity phase of comet 67P/CG. Although several diamagnetic regions have been crossed over a large range of distances to the comet nucleus (from 50 to 400 km) and to the Sun (1.25–2.4 au), in situ observations give strong evidence for a single diamagnetic region, located close to the electron exobase. Moreover, the observations are consistent with an unstable contact surface that can locally extend up to about 10 times the electron exobase.


Nilsson H, Wieser GS, Behar E, Gunell H, Wieser M, Galand M, Simon Wedlund C, Alho M, Goetz C, Yamauchi M, Henri P, Odelstad E, Vigren Eet al., 2017, Evolution of the ion environment of comet 67P during the Rosetta mission as seen by RPC-ICA, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 469, Pages: S252-S261, ISSN: 0035-8711

Rosetta has followed comet 67P from low activity at more than 3.6 au heliocentric distance to high activity at perihelion (1.24 au) and then out again. We provide a general overview of the evolution of the dynamic ion environment using data from the RPC-ICA ion spectrometer. We discuss where Rosetta was located within the evolving comet magnetosphere. For the initial observations, the solar wind permeated all of the coma. In 2015 mid-April, the solar wind started to disappear from the observation region, to re-appear again in 2015 December. Low-energy cometary ions were seen at first when Rosetta was about 100 km from the nucleus at 3.6 au, and soon after consistently throughout the mission except during the excursions to farther distances from the comet. The observed flux of low-energy ions was relatively constant due to Rosetta's orbit changing with comet activity. Accelerated cometary ions, moving mainly in the antisunward direction gradually became more common as comet activity increased. These accelerated cometary ions kept being observed also after the solar wind disappeared from the location of Rosetta, with somewhat higher fluxes further away from the nucleus. Around perihelion, when Rosetta was relatively deep within the comet magnetosphere, the fluxes of accelerated cometary ions decreased, as did their maximum energy. The disappearance of more energetic cometary ions at close distance during high activity is suggested to be due to a flow pattern where these ions flow around the obstacle of the denser coma or due to charge exchange losses.


Vigren E, André M, Edberg NJT, Engelhardt IAD, Eriksson AI, Galand M, Goetz C, Henri P, Heritier K, Johansson FL, Nilsson H, Odelstad E, Rubin M, Stenberg-Wieser G, Tzou C-Y, Vallières Xet al., 2017, Effective ion speeds at ∼200–250 km from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko near perihelion, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 469, Pages: S142-S148, ISSN: 0035-8711

In 2015 August, comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the target comet of the ESA Rosetta mission, reached its perihelion at ∼1.24 au. Here, we estimate for a three-day period near perihelion, effective ion speeds at distances ∼200–250 km from the nucleus. We utilize two different methods combining measurements from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC)/Mutual Impedance Probe with measurements either from the RPC/Langmuir Probe or from the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA)/Comet Pressure Sensor (COPS) (the latter method can only be applied to estimate the effective ion drift speed). The obtained ion speeds, typically in the range 2–8 km s−1, are markedly higher than the expected neutral outflow velocity of ∼1 km s−1. This indicates that the ions were de-coupled from the neutrals before reaching the spacecraft location and that they had undergone acceleration along electric fields, not necessarily limited to acceleration along ambipolar electric fields in the radial direction. For the limited time period studied, we see indications that at increasing distances from the nucleus, the fraction of the ions’ kinetic energy associated with radial drift motion is decreasing.


Heritier KL, Henri P, Vallières X, Galand M, Odelstad E, Eriksson AI, Johansson FL, Altwegg K, Behar E, Beth A, Broiles TW, Burch JL, Carr CM, Cupido E, Nilsson H, Rubin M, Vigren Eet al., 2017, Vertical structure of the near-surface expanding ionosphere of comet 67P probed by Rosetta, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 469, Pages: S118-S129, ISSN: 0035-8711

The plasma environment has been measured for the first time near the surface of a comet. This unique data set has been acquired at 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko during ESA/Rosetta spacecraft's final descent on 2016 September 30. The heliocentric distance was 3.8 au and the comet was weakly outgassing. Electron density was continuously measured with Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC)–Mutual Impedance Probe (MIP) and RPC–LAngmuir Probe (LAP) during the descent from a cometocentric distance of 20 km down to the surface. Data set from both instruments have been cross-calibrated for redundancy and accuracy. To analyse this data set, we have developed a model driven by Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis–COmetary Pressure Sensor total neutral density. The two ionization sources considered are solar extreme ultraviolet radiation and energetic electrons. The latter are estimated from the RPC–Ion and Electron Sensor (IES) and corrected for the spacecraft potential probed by RPC–LAP. We have compared the results of the model to the electron densities measured by RPC–MIP and RPC–LAP at the location of the spacecraft. We find good agreement between observed and modelled electron densities. The energetic electrons have access to the surface of the nucleus and contribute as the main ionization source. As predicted, the measurements exhibit a peak in the ionospheric density close to the surface. The location and magnitude of the peak are estimated analytically. The measured ionospheric densities cannot be explained with a constant outflow velocity model. The use of a neutral model with an expanding outflow is critical to explain the plasma observations.


Beth A, Altwegg K, Balsiger H, Berthelier J-J, Calmonte U, Combi MR, De Keyser J, Dhooghe F, Fiethe B, Fuselier SA, Galand M, Gasc S, Gombosi TI, Hansen KC, Hassig M, Heritier KL, Kopp E, Le Roy L, Mandt KE, Peroy S, Rubin M, Semon T, Tzou C-Y, Vigren Eet al., 2017, First in situ detection of the cometary ammonium ion NH4+ (protonated ammonia NH3) in the coma of 67P/C-G near perihelion, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 462, Pages: S562-S572, ISSN: 0035-8711

In this paper, we report the first in situ detection of the ammonium ion NH+44+ at 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) in a cometary coma, using the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA)/Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS). Unlike neutral and ion spectrometers onboard previous cometary missions, the ROSINA/DFMS spectrometer, when operated in ion mode, offers the capability to distinguish NH+44+ from H2O+ in a cometary coma. We present here the ion data analysis of mass-to-charge ratios 18 and 19 at high spectral resolution and compare the results with an ionospheric model to put these results into context. The model confirms that the ammonium ion NH+44+ is one of the most abundant ion species, as predicted, in the coma near perihelion.


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