Plasma Wave Observations at Comet Giacobini-Zinner

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  18 Apr 1986:
Vol. 232, Issue 4748, pp. 377-381
DOI: 10.1126/science.232.4748.377


The plasma wave instrument on the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) detected bursts of strong ion acoustic waves almost continuously when the spacecraft was within 2 million kilometers of the nucleus of comet Giacobini-Zinner. Electromagnetic whistlers and low-level electron plasma oscillations were also observed in this vast region that appears to be associated with heavy ion pickup. As ICE came closer to the anticipated location of the bow shock, the electromagnetic and electrostatic wave levels increased significantly, but even in the midst of this turbulence the wave instrument detected structures with familiar bow shock characteristics that were well correlated with observations of localized electron heating phenomena. Just beyond the visible coma, broadband waves with amplitudes as high as any ever detected by the ICE plasma wave instrument were recorded. These waves may account for the significant electron heating observed in this region by the ICE plasma probe, and these observations of strong wave-particle interactions may provide answers to longstanding questions concerning ionization processes in the vicinity of the coma. Near closest approach, the plasma wave instrument detected broadband electrostatic noise and a changing pattern of weak electron plasma oscillations that yielded a density profile for the outer layers of the cold plasma tail. Near the tail axis the plasma wave instrument also detected a nonuniform flux of dust impacts, and a preliminary profile of the Giacobini-Zinner dust distribution for micrometer-sized particles is presented.