Plasma Diagnosis from Thermal Noise and Limits on Dust Flux or Mass in Comet Giacobini-Zinner

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Science  18 Apr 1986:
Vol. 232, Issue 4748, pp. 370-374
DOI: 10.1126/science.232.4748.370


Thermal noise spectroscopy was used to measure the density and temperature of the main (cold) electron plasma population during 2 hours (1.5x105 kilometers perpendicular to the tail axis) around the point of closest approach of the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) to Comet Giacobini-Zinner. The time resolution was 18 seconds (370 kilometers) in the plasma tail and 54 seconds (1100 kilometers) elsewhere. Near the tail axis, the maximum plasma density was 670 per cubic centimeter and the temperature slightly above 1 electron volt. Away from the axis, the plasma density dropped to 100 per cubic centimeter (temperature, 2x 104 K) over 2000 kilometers, then decreased to 10 (1.5x 105K) over 15,000 kilometers; outside that region (plasma tail), the density fluctuated between 10 and 30 per cubic centimeter and the temperature between 1x 105 and 4 x105 K. The relative density of the hot population rarely exceeded a few percent. The tail was highly asymmetrical and showed much structure. On the other antenna, shot noise was recorded from the plasma particle impacts on the spacecraft body. No evidence was found of grain impacts on the antennas or spacecraft in the plasma tail. This yields an upper limit for the dust flux or particle mass, indicating either fluxes or masses in the tail smaller than implied by the models or an anomalous grain structure. This seems to support earlier suggestions that these grains are featherlike. Outside the tail, and particularly near 105 kilometers from its axis, impulsive noises indicating plasma turbulence were observed.