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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 16, issue 1
Ann. Geophys., 16, 1–24, 1998
© European Geosciences Union 1998
Ann. Geophys., 16, 1–24, 1998
© European Geosciences Union 1998

  31 Jan 1998

31 Jan 1998

The structure and origin of magnetic clouds in the solar wind

V. Bothmer*,1 and R. Schwenn2 V. Bothmer and R. Schwenn
  • 1Space Science Department of ESA, ESTEC, 2200 AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands
  • 2Max-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie, 37189 Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
  • *Present address: IFKKI, University of Kiel, 24118 Kiel, Germany
  • Correspondence to: V. Bothmer

Abstract. Plasma and magnetic field data from the Helios 1/2 spacecraft have been used to investigate the structure of magnetic clouds (MCs) in the inner heliosphere. 46 MCs were identified in the Helios data for the period 1974–1981 between 0.3 and 1 AU. 85% of the MCs were associated with fast-forward interplanetary shock waves, supporting the close association between MCs and SMEs (solar mass ejections). Seven MCs were identified as direct consequences of Helios-directed SMEs, and the passage of MCs agreed with that of interplanetary plasma clouds (IPCs) identified as white-light brightness enhancements in the Helios photometer data. The total (plasma and magnetic field) pressure in MCs was higher and the plasma-β lower than in the surrounding solar wind. Minimum variance analysis (MVA) showed that MCs can best be described as large-scale quasi-cylindrical magnetic flux tubes. The axes of the flux tubes usually had a small inclination to the ecliptic plane, with their azimuthal direction close to the east-west direction. The large-scale flux tube model for MCs was validated by the analysis of multi-spacecraft observations. MCs were observed over a range of up to ~60° in solar longitude in the ecliptic having the same magnetic configuration. The Helios observations further showed that over-expansion is a common feature of MCs. From a combined study of Helios, Voyager and IMP data we found that the radial diameter of MCs increases between 0.3 and 4.2 AU proportional to the distance, R, from the Sun as R0.8 (R in AU). The density decrease inside MCs was found to be proportional to R–2.4, thus being stronger compared to the average solar wind. Four different magnetic configurations, as expected from the flux-tube concept, for MCs have been observed in situ by the Helios probes. MCs with left- and right-handed magnetic helicity occurred with about equal frequencies during 1974–1981, but surprisingly, the majority (74%) of the MCs had a south to north (SN) rotation of the magnetic field vector relative to the ecliptic. In contrast, an investigation of solar wind data obtained near Earth's orbit during 1984–1991 showed a preference for NS-clouds. A direct correlation was found between MCs and large quiescent filament disappearances (disparition brusques, DBs). The magnetic configurations of the filaments, as inferred from the orientation of the prominence axis, the polarity of the overlying field lines and the hemispheric helicity pattern observed for filaments, agreed well with the in situ observed magnetic structure of the associated MCs. The results support the model of MCs as large-scale expanding quasi-cylindrical magnetic flux tubes in the solar wind, most likely caused by SMEs associated with eruptions of large quiescent filaments. We suggest that the hemispheric dependence of the magnetic helicity structure observed for solar filaments can explain the preferred orientation of MCs in interplanetary space as well as their solar cycle behavior. However, the white-light features of SMEs and the measured volumes of their interplanetary counterparts suggest that MCs may not simply be just Hα-prominences, but that SMEs likely convect large-scale coronal loops overlying the prominence axis out of the solar atmosphere.

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