Effect of Solar Wind Drag on the Determination of the Properties of Coronal Mass Ejections from Heliospheric Images


The Fixed-Φ (FΦ) and Harmonic Mean (HM) fitting methods are two methods to determine the “average” direction and velocity of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from time–elongation tracks produced by Heliospheric Imagers (HIs), such as the HIs onboard the STEREO spacecraft. Both methods assume a constant velocity in their descriptions of the time–elongation profiles of CMEs, which are used to fit the observed time–elongation data. Here, we analyze the effect of aerodynamic drag on CMEs propagating through interplanetary space, and how this drag affects the result of the FΦ and HM fitting methods. A simple drag model is used to analytically construct time–elongation profiles which are then fitted with the two methods. It is found that higher angles and velocities give rise to greater error in both methods, reaching errors in the direction of propagation of up to 15∘ and 30∘ for the FΦ and HM fitting methods, respectively. This is due to the physical accelerations of the CMEs being interpreted as geometrical accelerations by the fitting methods. Because of the geometrical definition of the HM fitting method, it is more affected by the acceleration than the FΦ fitting method. Overall, we find that both techniques overestimate the initial (and final) velocity and direction for fast CMEs propagating beyond 90∘ from the Sun–spacecraft line, meaning that arrival times at 1 AU would be predicted early (by up to 12 hours). We also find that the direction and arrival time of a wide and decelerating CME can be better reproduced by the FΦ due to the cancelation of two errors: neglecting the CME width and neglecting the CME deceleration. Overall, the inaccuracies of the two fitting methods are expected to play an important role in the prediction of CME hit and arrival times as we head towards solar maximum and the STEREO spacecraft further move behind the Sun.

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Solar Physics



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