In the lower solar coronal regions where the magnetic field is dominant, the Alfvén speed is much higher than the wind speed. In contrast, the near-Earth solar wind is strongly super-Alfvénic, i.e., the wind speed greatly exceeds the Alfvén speed. The transition between these regimes is classically described as the "Alfvén point" but may in fact occur in a distributed Alfvén critical region. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission has entered this region, as it follows a series of orbits that gradually approach more closely to the Sun. During its 8th and 9th solar encounters, at a distance of ≈ 16 solar radii from the Sun, PSP sampled four extended periods in which the solar wind speed was measured to be smaller than the local Alfvén speed. These are the first in situ detections of sub-Alfvénic solar wind in the inner heliosphere by PSP. Here we explore properties of these samples of sub-Alfvénic solar wind, which may provide important previews of the physical processes operating at lower altitude. Specifically, we characterize the turbulence, anisotropy, intermittency, and directional switchback properties of these sub-Alfvénic winds and contrast these with the neighboring super-Alfvénic periods.
Feb. 11, 2022