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Dust Detection by the Wave Instrument on STEREO: Nanoparticles Picked up by the Solar Wind?


The STEREO wave instrument (S/WAVES) has detected a very large number of intense voltage pulses. We suggest that these events are produced by impact ionisation of nanoparticles striking the spacecraft at a velocity of the order of magnitude of the solar wind speed. Nanoparticles, which are half-way between micron-sized dust and atomic ions, have such a large charge-to-mass ratio that the electric field induced by the solar wind magnetic field accelerates them very efficiently. Since the voltage produced by dust impacts increases very fast with speed, such nanoparticles produce signals as high as do much larger grains of smaller speeds. The flux of 10-nm radius grains inferred in this way is compatible with the interplanetary dust flux model. The present results may represent the first detection of fast nanoparticles in interplanetary space near Earth orbit.

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