The nature of fluctuations on directional discontinuities inside a solar ejection: Wind and IMP-8 observations

B. J. Vasquez, C. J. Farrugia, S. A. Markovskii, J. V. Hollweg, I. G. Richardson, K. W. Ogilvie, R. P. Lepping, R. P. Lin, and D. Larson

Space Science Center, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, University of New Hampshire, Durham


A solar ejection passed the Wind spacecraft between December 23 and 26, 1996. On closer examination, we find a sequence of ejecta material, as identified by abnormally low proton temperatures, separated by plasmas with typical solar wind temperatures at 1 AU. Large and abrupt changes in field and plasma properties occurred near the separation boundaries of these regions. At the one boundary we examine here, a series of directional discontinuities was observed. We argue that Alfvénic fluctuations in the immediate vicinity of these discontinuities distort minimum variance normals, introducing uncertainty into the identification of the discontinuities as either rotational or tangential. Carrying out a series of tests on plasma and field data including minimum variance, velocity and magnetic field correlations, and jump conditions, we conclude that the discontinuities are tangential. To our knowledge, this is the first identification of tangential discontinuities (TDs) inside a solar ejection. Furthermore, we find waves superposed on these TDs. The presence of discontinuities allows the existence of both surface waves and ducted body waves. Both probably form in the solar atmosphere where many transverse nonuniformities exist and where theoretically they have been expected. We add to prior speculation that waves on discontinuities may in fact be a common occurrence. In the solar wind, these waves can attain large amplitudes and low frequencies. We argue that such waves can generate dynamical changes at TDs through advection or forced reconnection. The dynamics might so extensively alter the internal structure that the discontinuity would no longer be identified as tangential. Such processes could help explain why the occurrence frequency of TDs observed throughout the solar wind falls off with increasing heliocentric distance. The presence of waves may also alter the nature of the interactions of TDs with the Earth's bow shock in so called hot-flow anomalies.

submitted, J. Geophys. Res., 2001