Imaging Plasma Density Structures in the Soft X-Rays Generated by Solar Wind Charge Exchange with Neutrals

David G. Sibeck, R. Allen, H. Aryan, D. Bodewits, P. Brandt, G. Branduardi-Raymont, G. Brown, J. A. Carter, Y. M. Collado-Vega, M. R. Collier, H. K. Connor, T. E. Cravens, Y. Ezoe, M. C. Fok, M. Galeazzi, O. Gutynska, M. Holmström, S. Y. Hsieh, K. Ishikawa, D. KoutroumpaK. D. Kuntz, M. Leutenegger, Y. Miyoshi, F. S. Porter, M. E. Purucker, A. M. Read, J. Raeder, I. P. Robertson, A. A. Samsonov, S. Sembay, S. L. Snowden, N. E. Thomas, R. von Steiger, B. M. Walsh, S. Wing

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

9 Scopus citations


Both heliophysics and planetary physics seek to understand the complex nature of the solar wind’s interaction with solar system obstacles like Earth’s magnetosphere, the ionospheres of Venus and Mars, and comets. Studies with this objective are frequently conducted with the help of single or multipoint in situ electromagnetic field and particle observations, guided by the predictions of both local and global numerical simulations, and placed in context by observations from far and extreme ultraviolet (FUV, EUV), hard X-ray, and energetic neutral atom imagers (ENA). Each proposed interaction mechanism (e.g., steady or transient magnetic reconnection, local or global magnetic reconnection, ion pick-up, or the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability) generates diagnostic plasma density structures. The significance of each mechanism to the overall interaction (as measured in terms of atmospheric/ionospheric loss at comets, Venus, and Mars or global magnetospheric/ionospheric convection at Earth) remains to be determined but can be evaluated on the basis of how often the density signatures that it generates are observed as a function of solar wind conditions. This paper reviews efforts to image the diagnostic plasma density structures in the soft (low energy, 0.1–2.0 keV) X-rays produced when high charge state solar wind ions exchange electrons with the exospheric neutrals surrounding solar system obstacles. The introduction notes that theory, local, and global simulations predict the characteristics of plasma boundaries such the bow shock and magnetopause (including location, density gradient, and motion) and regions such as the magnetosheath (including density and width) as a function of location, solar wind conditions, and the particular mechanism operating. In situ measurements confirm the existence of time- and spatial-dependent plasma density structures like the bow shock, magnetosheath, and magnetopause/ionopause at Venus, Mars, comets, and the Earth. However, in situ measurements rarely suffice to determine the global extent of these density structures or their global variation as a function of solar wind conditions, except in the form of empirical studies based on observations from many different times and solar wind conditions. Remote sensing observations provide global information about auroral ovals (FUV and hard X-ray), the terrestrial plasmasphere (EUV), and the terrestrial ring current (ENA). ENA instruments with low energy thresholds (∼1keV) have recently been used to obtain important information concerning the magnetosheaths of Venus, Mars, and the Earth. Recent technological developments make these magnetosheaths valuable potential targets for high-cadence wide-field-of-view soft X-ray imagers. Section 2 describes proposed dayside interaction mechanisms, including reconnection, the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, and other processes in greater detail with an emphasis on the plasma density structures that they generate. It focuses upon the questions that remain as yet unanswered, such as the significance of each proposed interaction mode, which can be determined from its occurrence pattern as a function of location and solar wind conditions. Section 3 outlines the physics underlying the charge exchange generation of soft X-rays. Section 4 lists the background sources (helium focusing cone, planetary, and cosmic) of soft X-rays from which the charge exchange emissions generated by solar wind exchange must be distinguished. With the help of simulations employing state-of-the-art magnetohydrodynamic models for the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction, models for Earth’s exosphere, and knowledge concerning these background emissions, Sect. 5 demonstrates that boundaries and regions such as the bow shock, magnetosheath, magnetopause, and cusps can readily be identified in images of charge exchange emissions. Section 6 reviews observations by (generally narrow) field of view (FOV) astrophysical telescopes that confirm the presence of these emissions at the intensities predicted by the simulations. Section 7 describes the design of a notional wide FOV “lobster-eye” telescope capable of imaging the global interactions and shows how it might be used to extract information concerning the global interaction of the solar wind with solar system obstacles. The conclusion outlines prospects for missions employing such wide FOV imagers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number79
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Charge exchange
  • Comets
  • Cusp
  • Instrumentation
  • Magnetosheath
  • Planets
  • Solar wind
  • X-ray background
  • X-rays

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Sibeck, D. G., Allen, R., Aryan, H., Bodewits, D., Brandt, P., Branduardi-Raymont, G., Brown, G., Carter, J. A., Collado-Vega, Y. M., Collier, M. R., Connor, H. K., Cravens, T. E., Ezoe, Y., Fok, M. C., Galeazzi, M., Gutynska, O., Holmström, M., Hsieh, S. Y., Ishikawa, K., ... Wing, S. (2018). Imaging Plasma Density Structures in the Soft X-Rays Generated by Solar Wind Charge Exchange with Neutrals. Space Science Reviews, 214(4), [79].