We investigate how coronal mass ejections (CMEs) propagate through, and interact with, the inner heliosphere between the Sun and Earth, a key question in CME research and space weather forecasting. CME Sun-to-Earth kinematics are constrained by combining wide-angle heliospheric imaging observations, interplanetary radio type II bursts, and in situ measurements from multiple vantage points. We select three events for this study, the 2012 January 19, 23, and March 7 CMEs. Different from previous event studies, this work attempts to create a general picture for CME Sun-to-Earth propagation and compare different techniques for determining CME interplanetary kinematics. Key results are obtained concerning CME Sun-to-Earth propagation: (1) the Sun-to-Earth propagation of fast CMEs can be approximately formulated into three phases: an impulsive acceleration, then a rapid deceleration, and finally a nearly constant speed propagation (or gradual deceleration); (2) the CMEs studied here are still accelerating even after the flare maximum, so energy must be continuously fed into the CME even after the time of the maximum heating and radiation has elapsed in the corona; (3) the rapid deceleration, presumably due to interactions with the ambient medium, mainly occurs over a relatively short timescale following the acceleration phase; and (4) CME–CME interactions seem a common phenomenon close to solar maximum. Our comparison between different techniques (and data sets) has important implications for CME observations and their interpretations: (1) for the current cases, triangulation assuming a compact CME geometry is more reliable than triangulation assuming a spherical front attached to the Sun for distances below 50–70 solar radii from the Sun, but beyond about 100 solar radii we would trust the latter more; (2) a proper treatment of CME geometry must be performed in determining CME Sun-to-Earth kinematics, especially when the CME propagation direction is far away from the observer; and (3) our approach to comparing wide-angle heliospheric imaging observations with interplanetary radio type II bursts provides a novel tool in investigating CME propagation characteristics. Future CME observations and space weather forecasting are discussed based on these results.

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The Astrophysical Journal



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