Date of Award

Spring 2017

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Eberhard Moebius

Second Advisor

Nathan A Schwadron

Third Advisor

Philip A Isenberg


Interstellar pickup ions constitute a charged particle population that originates from interstellar neutrals inside the heliosphere. They are produced by photoionization, charge exchange with solar wind ions, and electron impact ionization (EI). Once ionized, they are picked up by the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) and rapidly swept outward with the solar wind. Typically, pickup ion distributions have been described in terms of a velocity distribution function that evolves through fast pitch angle scattering followed by adiabatic cooling during radial transport in the reference frame of the solar wind [e.g., Vasyliunas & Siscoe, 1976, VS76 hereafter].

In the VS76 model, the slope of the isotropic velocity distributions is controlled by the combination of the ionization rate and the cooling process. Thus far, for the cooling index that relates the slope of the velocity distribution to the radial transport and expansion of the pickup ions a constant value of 3/2 has been widely used. The implicit assumptions to arrive at this value are immediate PUI isotropization due to pitch angle scattering and solar wind expansion with the square of the distance from the Sun. Any experimental determination of the cooling index depends on the knowledge of the ionization rate and its spatial variation, as well as solar wind and interplanetary conditions. In this thesis, we study their influences on the PUI cooling index and separate them by making use of the two complementary helium PUI data sets from SWICS instrument on the ACE spacecraft, and PLASTIC instrument on STEREO spacecraft. We use the pickup ion observations from ACE SIWCS in the last solar cycle to determine the cooling index, and the possible effects of the electron impact ionization on the determination of the cooling index. With pickup ion observations from STEREO PLASTIC, we determine how solar wind expansion patterns affect the cooling index.

We find that the cooling index varies substantially with solar activity and suspect that these variations may be due to the influence of electron impact ionization, solar wind structures, and slow pitch angle scattering. Electron impact ionization, which does not scale as 1/r2, is shown to have negligible influence on the cooling index and its variations. However, the effects of solar wind compression and rarefaction regions are found to be important. Comparisons of the pickup ion cooling behavior in the compression and rarefaction regions show that the radial solar wind expansion behaviors that differer from the usual 1/r2 scaling may play the leading roles in the observed variations. A kinetic model of PUI is used to quantitatively describe their behavior in co-rotating interaction regions (CIR). The simulated distributions mimic closely the observed variations in the cooling behavior of PUIs in these regions. In addition, suprathermal tails appear to emerge from the PUI distributions inside compression regions, which provide further evidence that some particles of this population are accelerated locally in CIR compression regions even in the absence of shocks.