Solar wind charge exchange in cometary atmospheres. III. Results from the Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Simon Wedlund, C.; Behar, E.; Nilsson, H.; Alho, M.; Kallio, E.; Gunell, H.; Bodewits, D.; Heritier, K.; Galand, M.; Beth, A.; Rubin, Martin; Altwegg, Kathrin; Gronoff, G.; Hoekstra, R. (2019). Solar wind charge exchange in cometary atmospheres. III. Results from the Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Astronomy and astrophysics, 630, A37. EDP Sciences 10.1051/0004-6361/201834881

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Context. Solar wind charge-changing reactions are of paramount importance to the physico-chemistry of the atmosphere of a comet. The ESA/Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) provides a unique opportunity to study charge-changing processes in situ.
Aims. To understand the role of these reactions in the evolution of the solar wind plasma and interpret the complex in situ measurements made by Rosetta, numerical or analytical models are necessary.
Methods. We used an extended analytical formalism describing solar wind charge-changing processes at comets along solar wind streamlines. The model is driven by solar wind ion measurements from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium-Ion Composition Analyser
(RPC-ICA) and neutral density observations from the Rosetta Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis-Comet Pressure Sensor (ROSINA-COPS), as well as by charge-changing cross sections of hydrogen and helium particles in a water gas.
Results. A mission-wide overview of charge-changing efficiencies at comet 67P is presented. Electron capture cross sections dominate and favor the production of He and H energetic neutral atoms (ENAs), with fluxes expected to rival those of H⁺ and He²⁺ ions.
Conclusions. Neutral outgassing rates are retrieved from local RPC-ICA flux measurements and match ROSINA estimates very well throughout the mission. From the model, we find that solar wind charge exchange is unable to fully explain the magnitude of the sharp drop in solar wind ion fluxes observed by Rosetta for heliocentric distances below 2:5AU. This is likely because the model does not take the relative ion dynamics into account and to a lesser extent because it ignores the formation of bow-shock-like structures upstream of the nucleus. This work also shows that the ionization by solar extreme-ultraviolet radiation and energetic electrons dominates the source of cometary ions, although solar wind contributions may be significant during isolated events.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Rubin, Martin, Altwegg, Kathrin


500 Science > 520 Astronomy
600 Technology > 620 Engineering




EDP Sciences




Dora Ursula Zimmerer

Date Deposited:

22 Jul 2019 10:56

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:29

Publisher DOI:


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