Department of Physics and Astronomy

Disputation: Plasma and Dust around Icy Moon Enceladus and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

  • Date:
  • Location: 2001, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Engelhardt, Ilka. A. D.
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Rymd- och plasmafysik
  • Contact person: Engelhardt, Ilka. A. D.
  • Disputation


Saturn's moon Enceladus and comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko both are examples of icy solar system objects from which gas and dust flow into space. At both bodies, the gas becomes partly ionized and the dust grains get charged. Both bodies have been visited by spacecraft carrying similar Langmuir probe instruments for observing the plasma and the charged dust. As it turns out, the conditions at Enceladus and the comet are different and we emphasize different aspects of their plasma environments. At Enceladus, we concentrate on the characteristic plasma regions and charged dust. At the comet, we investigate the plasma and in particular plasmavariations and cold electrons.

At Enceladus, internal frictional heating leads to gas escaping from cracks in the ice from the south pole region. This causes a plume of gas, which becomes partially ionized, and dust, becoming charged. We have investigated the plasma and charged nanodust in this region by the use of the Langmuir probe (LP) of the Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument on Cassini. The dust charge density can be calculated from the quasineutrality condition, the difference between ion and electron density measurements from LP. We found support for this method by comparing to measurements of larger dust grains by the RPWS electric antennas. We use the LP method to find that the plasma and dust environment of Enceladus can be divided into at least three regions. In addition to the well known plume, these are the plume edge and the trail region.

At the comet, heat from the Sun sublimates ice to gas dragging dust along as it flows out into space. When the neutral gas molecules are ionized, by photoionization and electron impact ionization, we get a plasma. Models predict that the electron temperature just after ionization is around 10 eV, but that collisions with the neutral gas should cool the electron gas to below 0.1 eV. We used the Langmuir probe instrument (LAP) on Rosetta to estimate plasma temperatures and show a co-existence of cold and warm electrons in the plasma. We find that the cold plasma often is observed as brief pulses not only in the LAP data but also in the measurements of magnetic field, plasma density and ion energy by other Rosetta plasma instruments. We interpret these pulses as filaments of plasma propagating outwards from a diamagnetic cavity, as predicted by hybrid simulations. The gas production rate of comet 67P varied by more than three orders of magnitude during the Rosetta mission (up to March 2016). We therefore have an excellent opportunity to investigate how the electron cooling in a cometary coma evolves with activity. We used a method combining LAP and the Mutual Impedance Probe (MIP) for deriving the presence of cold electrons. We show that cold electrons were present intermittently during a large part of the mission and as far out as 3 AU. Models suggest only negligible cooling and we suggest that the ambipolar field keeps the electrons close to the nucleus and giving them more time to lose energy by collision.