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The Structure of the Solar Wind in the Inner Heliosphere


This dissertation is devoted to expanding our understanding of the solar wind structure in the inner heliosphere and variations therein with solar activity. Using spacecraft observations and numerical models, the origins of the large-scale structures and long-term trends of the solar wind are explored in order to gain insights on how our Sun determines the space environments of the terrestrial planets.

I use long term measurements of the solar wind density, velocity, interplanetary magnetic field, and particles, together with models based on solar magnetic field data, to generate time series of these properties that span one solar rotation (~27 days). From these time series, I assemble and obtain the synoptic overviews of the solar wind properties.

The resulting synoptic overviews show that the solar wind around Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars is a complex co-rotating structure with recurring features and occasional transients. During quiet solar conditions, the heliospheric current sheet, which separates the positive interplanetary magnetic field from the negative, usually has a remarkably steady two- or four-sector structure that persists for many solar rotations. Within the sector boundaries are the slow and fast speed solar wind streams that originate from the open coronal magnetic field sources that map to the ecliptic. At the sector boundaries, compressed high-density and the related high-dynamic pressure ridges form where streams from different coronal source regions interact. High fluxes of energetic particles also occur at the boundaries, and are seen most prominently during the quiet solar period. The existence of these recurring features depends on how long-lived are their source regions.

In the last decade, 3D numerical solar wind models have become more widely available. They provide important scientific tools for obtaining a more global view of the inner heliosphere and of the relationships between conditions at Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. When I compare the model results with observations for periods outside of solar wind disturbances, I find that the models do a good job of simulating at least the steady, large-scale, ambient solar wind structure. However, it remains a challenge to accurately model the solar wind during active solar conditions. During these times, solar transients such as coronal mass ejections travel through interplanetary space and disturb the ambient solar wind, producing a far less predictable and modelable space environment. However, such conditions may have the greatest impact on the planets - especially on their atmospheres and magnetospheres. I therefore also consider the next steps in modeling, toward including active conditions.

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