Can IBEX identify variations in the galactic environment of the sun using energetic neutral atoms?


The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft is providing the first all-sky maps of the energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) produced by charge exchange between interstellar neutral H degrees atoms and heliospheric solar wind and pickup ions in the heliosphere boundary regions. The "edge" of the interstellar cloud presently surrounding the heliosphere extends less than 0.1 pc in the upwind direction, terminating at an unknown distance, indicating that the outer boundary conditions of the heliosphere could change during the lifetime of the IBEX satellite. Using reasonable values for future outer heliosphere boundary conditions, ENA fluxes are predicted for one possible source of ENAs coming from outside of the heliopause. The ENA-production simulations use three-dimensional MHD plasma models of the heliosphere that include a kinetic description of neutrals and a Lorentzian distribution for ions. Based on this ENA-production model, it is then shown that the sensitivities of the IBEX 1.1 keV skymaps are sufficient to detect the variations in ENA fluxes that are expected to accompany the solar transition into the next upwind cloud. Approximately 20% of the IBEX 1.1 keV pixels appear capable of detecting the predicted model differences at the 3 sigma level, with these pixels concentrated in the Ribbon region. Regardless of the detailed ENA production model, the success of the modeled B . R similar to 0 directions in reproducing the Ribbon locus, together with our results, indicates that the Ribbon phenomenon traces the variations in the heliosphere distortion caused by the relative pressures of the interstellar magnetic and gaseous components.



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