Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics

Cover image for Vol. 119 Issue 12

Impact Factor: 3.44

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 24/173 (Geosciences Multidisciplinary)

Online ISSN: 2169-9402

Associated Title(s): Journal of Geophysical Research

Mapping the magnetic mayhem in the heliosheath

When Voyager 1 passed into the heliosheath in 2004, it became the first man-made object to explore the remote edge of the Sun's magnetic influence. The heliosheath, between 1.5 and 15 billion km thick and starting roughly 14 billion km from the Sun, is where the outgoing flows of solar wind start to be pushed back by interstellar particles and magnetic fields that are heading toward the solar system. While passing through the heliosheath, Voyager 1 experienced many sudden and drastic changes in the surrounding magnetic field driven by structures called current sheets. Using Voyager 1's ongoing measurements of the magnetic field, Burlaga and Ness (2011) identified three distinct types of current sheets. The structures, appearing as proton boundary layers (PBLs), magnetic holes or humps, or sector boundaries, were identified by characteristic fluctuations in either magnetic field strength or direction as the spacecraft crossed nearly 500 million km of heliosheath in 2009. PBLs are defined by a rapid jump in magnetic field strength, with one observed event resulting in a doubling of the field strength in just half an hour. Passing through a sector boundary led to a sudden change in direction of the magnetic field. Magnetic holes saw the field strength drop to near zero before returning to the original background strength. Magnetic humps consisted of a sudden spike in strength and then a return to initial levels. The firsthand detections made by Voyager 1 are likely to be extremely important for researchers trying to decide between current leading theories for the source and structure of current sheets.

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