Constraining low-frequency Alfvenic turbulence in the solar wind using density-fluctuation measurements


One proposed mechanism for heating the solar wind, from close to the Sun to beyond similar to 10 AU, invokes low-frequency, oblique, Alfven-wave turbulence. Because small-scale oblique Alfven waves (kinetic Alfven waves, KAWs) are compressive, the measured density fluctuations in the solar wind place an upper limit on the amplitude of KAWs and hence an upper limit on the rate at which the solar wind can be heated by low-frequency, Alfvenic turbulence. We evaluate this upper limit for both coronal holes at 5 R(circle dot) and the near-Earth solar wind. At both locations, the upper limit we find is consistent with models in which the solar wind is heated by low-frequency Alfvenic turbulence. At 1 AU, the upper limit on the turbulent heating rate derived from the measured density fluctuations is within a factor of 2 of the measured solar-wind heating rate. Thus, if low-frequency Alfvenic turbulence is the primary mechanism for heating the near-Earth solar wind, KAWs must be one of the dominant sources of solar-wind density fluctuations at frequencies similar to 1 Hz. We also present a simple argument for why density-fluctuation measurements do appear to rule out models in which coronal holes are heated by non-turbulent high-frequency waves ("sweeping"), but are compatible with heating by low-frequency Alfvenic turbulence.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Astrophysical Journal



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



© 2009. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.