A slow mode transition region adjoining the front boundary of a magnetic cloud as a relic of a convected solar wind feature: Observations and MHD simulation


We identify a planar, pressure-balanced structure bounded by sharp changes in the dynamic pressure plastered against the front boundary of the magnetic cloud which passed Earth on 20 November 2003. The front boundary of the magnetic cloud (MC) is particularly well-defined in this case, being located where the He++/H+ number density ratio jumps from 4 to 10% for the first time and the proton plasma beta decreases sharply from ∼1 to ∼0.001. The feature, estimated to have a length scale ∼50 RE in the Sun-Earth direction, bears close resemblance to a slow mode transition region in that the magnetic pressure decreases, the plasma pressure increases, and their temporal variations are anticorrelated. Using a 2-D MHD simulation, we hypothesize that a pressure-balanced structure was encountered by the MC en route to Earth. Our calculations reproduce qualitatively the major features of the observations. Using a simplified geometry suggested by the observations, we find that the lateral deflection speed of the plasma is less than the lateral expansion speed of the MC. We infer that the structure traversed the MC sheath in ∼20 h, consistent with its crossing of the MC's shock at 0.6–0.7 AU. The finding is consistent with the recent paradigm according to which solar wind plasma and magnetic field tend to pile up in front of interplanetary ejecta because the expansion of the ejecta hinders the shocked solar wind plasma from deflecting effectively around the object. Also, the inferred “age” of the layer contiguous to the surface of the MC, the earliest relic of its passage through the inner heliosphere, is in agreement with general estimates.

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JGR: Space Physics



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