Cometary plasma science -- A white paper in response to the voyage 2050 call by the European space agency

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Title: Cometary plasma science -- A white paper in response to the voyage 2050 call by the European space agency
Authors: Götz, C
Gunell, H
Volwerk, M
Beth, A
Eriksson, A
Galand, M
Henri, P
Nilsson, H
Wedlund, CS
Alho, M
Andersson, L
Andre, N
Keyser, JD
Deca, J
Ge, Y
Glaßmeier, K-H
Hajra, R
Karlsson, T
Kasahara, S
Kolmasova, I
LLera, K
Madanian, H
Mann, I
Mazelle, C
Odelstad, E
Plaschke, F
Rubin, M
Sanchez-Cano, B
Snodgrass, C
Vigren, E
Item Type: Working Paper
Abstract: Comets hold the key to the understanding of our solar system, its formation and its evolution, and to the fundamental plasma processes at work both in it and beyond it. A comet nucleus emits gas as it is heated by the sunlight. The gas forms the coma, where it is ionised, becomes a plasma and eventually interacts with the solar wind. Besides these neutral and ionised gases, the coma also contains dust grains, released from the comet nucleus. As a cometary atmosphere develops when the comet travels through the solar system, large-scale structures, such as the plasma boundaries, develop and disappear, while at planets such large-scale structures are only accessible in their fully grown, quasi-steady state. In situ measurements at comets enable us to learn both how such large-scale structures are formed or reformed and how small-scale processes in the plasma affect the formation and properties of these large scale structures. Furthermore, a comet goes through a wide range of parameter regimes during its life cycle, where either collisional processes, involving neutrals and charged particles, or collisionless processes are at play, and might even compete in complicated transitional regimes. Thus a comet presents a unique opportunity to study this parameter space, from an asteroid-like to a Mars- and Venus-like interaction. Fast flybys of comets have made many new discoveries, setting the stage for a multi-spacecraft mission to accompany a comet on its journey through the solar system. This white paper reviews the present-day knowledge of cometary plasmas, discusses the many questions that remain unanswered, and outlines a multi-spacecraft ESA mission to accompany a comet that will answer these questions by combining both multi-spacecraft observations and a rendezvous mission, and at the same time advance our understanding of fundamental plasma physics and its role in planetary systems.
Issue Date: 1-Aug-2019
Publisher: arXiv
Copyright Statement: © 2019 The Authors.
Keywords: astro-ph.EP
Publication Status: Published
Appears in Collections:Space and Atmospheric Physics
Faculty of Natural Sciences

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