Deep Solar Activity Minimum 2007-2009: Solar Wind Properties and Major Effects on the Terrestrial Magnetosphere


We discuss the temporal variations and frequency distributions of solar wind and interplanetary magnetic field parameters during the solar minimum of 2007 – 2009 from measurements returned by the IMPACT and PLASTIC instruments on STEREO-A. We find that the density and total field strength were significantly weaker than in the previous minimum. The Alfvén Mach number was higher than typical. This reflects the weakness of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) forces, and has a direct effect on the solar wind–magnetosphere interactions. We then discuss two major aspects that this weak solar activity had on the magnetosphere, using data from Wind and ground-based observations: i) the dayside contribution to the cross-polar cap potential (CPCP), and ii) the shapes of the magnetopause and bow shock. For i) we find a low interplanetary electric field of 1.3±0.9 mV m−1 and a CPCP of 37.3±20.2 kV. The auroral activity is closely correlated to the prevalent stream–stream interactions. We suggest that the Alfvén wave trains in the fast streams and Kelvin–Helmholtz instability were the predominant agents mediating the transfer of solar wind momentum and energy to the magnetosphere during this three-year period. For ii) we determine 328 magnetopause and 271 bow shock crossings made by Geotail, Cluster 1, and the THEMIS B and C spacecraft during a three-month interval when the daily averages of the magnetic and kinetic energy densities attained their lowest value during the three years under survey. We use the same numerical approach as in Fairfield’s (J. Geophys. Res. 76, 7600, 1971) empirical model and compare our findings with three magnetopause models. The stand-off distance of the subsolar magnetopause and bow shock were 11.8 R E and 14.35 R E, respectively. When comparing with Fairfield’s (1971) classic result, we find that the subsolar magnetosheath is thinner by ∼1 R E. This is mainly due to the low dynamic pressure which results in a sunward shift of the magnetopause. The magnetopause is more flared than in Fairfield’s model. By contrast the bow shock is less flared, and the latter is the result of weaker MHD forces.

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Solar Physics



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