skip to main content

Title: Shocks in the Very Local Interstellar Medium
Abstract Large-scale disturbances generated by the Sun’s dynamics first propagate through the heliosphere, influence the heliosphere’s outer boundaries, and then traverse and modify the very local interstellar medium (VLISM). The existence of shocks in the VLISM was initially suggested by Voyager observations of the 2-3 kHz radio emissions in the heliosphere. A couple of decades later, both Voyagers crossed the definitive edge of our heliosphere and became the first ever spacecraft to sample interstellar space. Since Voyager 1’s entrance into the VLISM, it sampled electron plasma oscillation events that indirectly measure the medium’s density, increasing as it moves further away from the heliopause. Some of the observed electron oscillation events in the VLISM were associated with the local heliospheric shock waves. The observed VLISM shocks were very different than heliospheric shocks. They were very weak and broad, and the usual dissipation via wave-particle interactions could not explain their structure. Estimates of the dissipation associated with the collisionality show that collisions can determine the VLISM shock structure. According to theory and models, the existence of a bow shock or wave in front of our heliosphere is still an open question as there are no direct observations yet. This paper reviews the outstanding observations recently made by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, and our current understanding of the properties of shocks/waves in the VLISM. We present some of the most exciting open questions related to the VLISM and shock waves that should be addressed in the future.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2010450 2031611
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Space Science Reviews
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The two Voyager spacecraft have now been immersed in the very local interstellar medium for several years. Both spacecraft carry a plasma wave instrument capable of detecting plasma waves that yield electron density through the determination of the electron plasma frequency. Recent observations by Voyager 1 show increases in density at shocks and pressure fronts that are commensurate with increases in the magnetic field at these structures. Voyager 1 has not observed electron plasma oscillations, thought to be a signature of a nearby shock, since 2019, although Voyager 2 continues to observe these as recently as 2022 November. Voyager 1 also detects a faint thermal emission at the electron plasma frequency that shows the evolution of the plasma density as Voyager moves deeper into the medium. Here, we show the most recent observations from both Voyagers showing the increasing densities in the region upstream of the heliopause. We also investigate the fate of solar transients as they move ever deeper into the interstellar medium.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Interstellar pickup ions are an ubiquitous and thermodynamically important component of the solar wind plasma in the heliosphere. These PUIs are born from the ionization of the interstellar neutral gas, consisting of hydrogen, helium, and trace amounts of heavier elements, in the solar wind as the heliosphere moves through the local interstellar medium. As cold interstellar neutral atoms become ionized, they form an energetic ring beam distribution comoving with the solar wind. Subsequent scattering in pitch angle by intrinsic and self-generated turbulence and their advection with the radially expanding solar wind leads to the formation of a filled-shell PUI distribution, whose density and pressure relative to the thermal solar wind ions grows with distance from the Sun. This paper reviews the history of in situ measurements of interstellar PUIs in the heliosphere. Starting with the first detection in the 1980s, interstellar PUIs were identified by their highly nonthermal distribution with a cutoff at twice the solar wind speed. Measurements of the PUI distribution shell cutoff and the He focusing cone, a downwind region of increased density formed by the solar gravity, have helped characterize the properties of the interstellar gas from near-Earth vantage points. The preferential heating of interstellar PUIs compared to the core solar wind has become evident in the existence of suprathermal PUI tails, the nonadiabatic cooling index of the PUI distribution, and PUIs’ mediation of interplanetary shocks. Unlike the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft, New Horizon’s Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument is taking the only direct measurements of interstellar PUIs in the outer heliosphere, currently out to $\sim47~\text{au}$ ∼ 47 au from the Sun or halfway to the heliospheric termination shock. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract The solar wind (SW) and local interstellar medium (LISM) are turbulent media. Their interaction is governed by complex physical processes and creates heliospheric regions with significantly different properties in terms of particle populations, bulk flow and turbulence. Our knowledge of the solar wind turbulence nature and dynamics mostly relies on near-Earth and near-Sun observations, and has been increasingly improving in recent years due to the availability of a wealth of space missions, including multi-spacecraft missions. In contrast, the properties of turbulence in the outer heliosphere are still not completely understood. In situ observations by Voyager and New Horizons , and remote neutral atom measurements by IBEX strongly suggest that turbulence is one of the critical processes acting at the heliospheric interface. It is intimately connected to charge exchange processes responsible for the production of suprathermal ions and energetic neutral atoms. This paper reviews the observational evidence of turbulence in the distant SW and in the LISM, advances in modeling efforts, and open challenges. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Interstellar neutral atoms enter the heliosphere at a relatively slow speed corresponding to the motion of the Sun through the local interstellar medium, which is approximately 25 km s−1. Neutral hydrogen atoms enter from the approximate location of the Voyager spacecraft and are eventually ionized primarily by collision with thermal solar wind ions. An earlier analysis by Hollick et al. examined low-frequency magnetic waves observed by the Voyager spacecraft from launch through 1990 that are thought to arise from the scattering of newborn interstellar pickup H+and He+. We report an analysis of Voyager 1 observations in 1991, which is the last year of high-resolution magnetic field data that are publicly available, and find 70 examples of low-frequency waves with the characteristics that suggest excitation by pickup H+and 10 examples of waves consistent with excitation by pickup He+. We find a particularly dense cluster of observations at the tail end of what is thought to be a Merged Interaction Region (MIR) that was previously studied by Burlaga & Ness using Voyager 2 observations. This is not unexpected if the MIR is followed by a large rarefaction region, as they tend to be regions of reduced turbulence levels that permit the growth of the waves over the long time periods that are generally required of this instability.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract Stellar bow shocks are observed in a variety of interstellar environments and shaped by the conditions of gas in the interstellar medium (ISM). In situ measurements of turbulent density fluctuations near stellar bow shocks are only achievable with a few observational probes, including H α -emitting bow shocks and the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM). In this paper, we examine density variations around the Guitar Nebula, an H α bow shock associated with PSR B2224+65, in tandem with density variations probed by VIM near the boundary of the solar wind and ISM. High-resolution Hubble Space Telescope observations of the Guitar Nebula taken between 1994 and 2006 trace density variations over scales from hundreds to thousands of au, while VIM density measurements made with the Voyager 1 Plasma Wave System constrain variations from thousands of meters to tens of au. The power spectrum of density fluctuations constrains the amplitude of the turbulence wavenumber spectrum near the Guitar Nebula to log 10 C n 2 = − 0.8 ± 0.2 m −20/3 and for the very local ISM probed by Voyager to log 10 C n 2 = − 1.57 ± 0.02 m −20/3 . Spectral amplitudes obtained from multiepoch observations of four other H α bow shocks also show significant enhancements from values that are considered typical for the diffuse, warm ionized medium, suggesting that density fluctuations near these bow shocks may be amplified by shock interactions with the surrounding medium or selection effects that favor H α emission from bow shocks embedded in denser media. 
    more » « less