Strong Preferential Ion Heating is Limited to within the Solar Alfvén Surface

Justin C. Kasper, Kristopher G. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The decay of the solar wind helium-to-hydrogen temperature ratio due to Coulomb thermalization can be used to measure how far from the Sun strong preferential ion heating occurs. Previous work has shown that a zone of preferential ion heating, resulting in mass-proportional temperatures, extends about 20-40 R o from the Sun on average. Here we look at the motion of the outer boundary of this zone with time and compare it to other physically meaningful distances. We report that the boundary moves in lockstep with the Alfvén point over the solar cycle, contracting and expanding with solar activity with a correlation coefficient of better than 0.95 and with an rms difference of 4.23 R o. Strong preferential ion heating is apparently predominately active below the Alfvén surface. To definitively identify the underlying preferential heating mechanisms, it will be necessary to make in situ measurements of the local plasma conditions below the Alfvén surface. We predict that the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) will be the first spacecraft to directly observe this heating in action, but only a couple of years after launch as activity increases, the zone expands, and PSP's perihelion drops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL35
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Sun: activity
  • plasmas
  • solar wind
  • turbulence
  • waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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