Bow shock and its interaction with interplanetary shocks


  • Murray Dryer


Harbingers of significant magnetospheric motions consist of the interactions of interplanetary discontinuities with the standing bow shock. The most common discontinuity is the tangential discontinuity. Less frequent in occurrence, but of major significance to subsequent magnetospheric dynamics, is the flare-generated interplanetary shock wave and its initiation of bow shock and magnetopause motion toward Earth. Early studies utilized the ordinary gas-dynamic analogy of the well-known Riemann splitting of an initial discontinuity (i.e., bow shock) into a reflected shock (the moving bow shock) and the transmitted shock (the inward-moving interplanetary shock). It was shown that order-of-magnitude pressure increases at the subsolar point of the magnetopause are readily found for typical shock-on-shock studies. Phenomenological studies also demonstrated, in agreement with observations, that the magnetopause motion could be predicted on the basis of quasi-static variation of the solar wind dynamic pressure. Recent hydromagnetic studies (for the simplified case of perpendicular shocks) have extended the theory to predict bow shock and magnetopause velocities which appear to be observed by spacecraft. Such one-dimensional studies provide upper limits for all average plasma parameters within the region of the Sun-Earth axis. The general case of the time-dependent interaction in three dimensions has, as yet, not been done. Nevertheless, the general configurational and plasma details are, in principle, amenable to examination with the use of multiple spacecraft measurements during the interaction and the ensuing dynamic motions on a time scale of tens of min to the several hr required for the magnetopause to move to smaller geocentric distances. The physical processes of various energy transfers from kinetic to thermal and magnetic as predicted by the hydromagnetic theory could then be assessed by study of the plasma average velocity, direction of flow, magnetic field, temperature, and density.

The magnetosheath plasma properties following such interactions could, on a more speculative note, provide new boundary conditions (associated with appropriate magnetosheath and magnetosphere magnetic field polarities) which could, in turn, initiate and drive the reconnection process within the magnetopause.