Planetary Bodies

Solar Wind Interaction with Pluto

SWAP observations of Pluto's interaction with the solar wind. Credit: McComas, D. J., et al. (2016), J. Geophys. Res., 121, 4232–4246.

Planetary bodies throughout the solar system are exposed to plasma and dust particle fluxes. All objects in the heliosphere provide an obstacle to the solar wind and will carve out a local interaction region populated with a complex and diverse plasma environment. For example, plasma measurements taken with the SWAP instrument during New Horizons' flyby of Pluto revealed a hybrid interaction, where a bow shock ahead of Pluto is generated by mass-loading of the solar wind like at a comet, but the obstacle excluding the solar wind plasma is supported by atmospheric pressure like the interaction at Venus or Mars. For airless bodies that lack dense atmospheres, their surfaces are entirely exposed to local plasma and dust populations, which modify and space weather their surfaces over time. These bodies are both sources and sinks of plasma and dust populations throughout the heliosphere.

Relevant Observations:

  • Solar wind ions, pickup ions, and planetary ions at Jupiter and Pluto (SWAP)
  • Energetic neutral atoms from Earth’s magnetosphere (TWINS, IBEX) and the Moon (IBEX)
  • Plasma at Jupiter’s magnetosphere (SWOOPS)
  • Dust impact ejecta clouds from the Moon (LADEE)

Examples of Research Topics:

  • Heavy ions at the solar wind interaction with Pluto
  • Impact ejecta processes at airless bodies
  • Auroral plasma at Jupiter