Articles | Volume 21, issue 6
Special issue:
30 Jun 2003
 | 30 Jun 2003

The charge-exchange induced coupling between plasma-gas counterflows in the heliosheath

H. J. Fahr

Abstract. Many hydrodynamic models have been presented which give similar views of the interaction of the solar wind plasma bubble with the counterstreaming partially ionized interstellar medium. In the more recent of these models it is taken into account that the solar and interstellar hydrodynamic flows of neutral atoms and protons are coupled by mass-, momentum-, and energy-exchange terms due to charge exchange processes. We shall reinvestigate the theoretical basis of this coupling here by use of a simplified description of the heliospheric interface and describe the main physics of the H-atom penetration through the more or less standing well-known plasma wall ahead of the heliopause. Thereby we can show that the type of charge exchange coupling terms used in up-to-now hydrodynamic treatments unavoidably leads to an O-type critical point at the sonic point of the H-atom flow, thus not allowing for a continuation of the integration of the hydrodynamic set of differential equations. The remedy for this problem is given by a more accurate formulation of the momentum exchange term for quasi-and sub-sonic H-atom flows. With a refined momentum exchange term derived from basic kinetic Boltzmann principles, we instead arrive at a characteristic equation with an X-type critical point, allowing for a continuous solution from supersonic to subsonic flow conditions. This necessitates that the often treated problem of the propagation of inter-stellar H-atoms through the heliosheath has to be solved using these newly derived, differently effective plasma – gas friction forces. Substantially different results are to be expected from this context for the filtration efficiency of the heliospheric interface.

Key words. Interplanetary physics (heliopause and solar wind termination; interstellar gas) – Ionosphere (plasma temperature and density)

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