Three Dimensional Probability Distributions of the Interplanetary Magnetic Field

Friday, 19 December 2014
John J Podesta, Space Science Institute, Center for Space Plasma Physics, Boulder, CO, United States
Empirical probability density functions (PDFs) of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) have been derived from spacecraft data since the early years of the space age. A survey of the literature shows that past studies have investigated the separate Cartesian components of the magnetic field, the vector magnitude, and the direction of the IMF by means of one-dimensional or two-dimensional PDFs. But, to my knowledge, there exist no studies which investigate the three dimensional nature of the IMF by means of three dimensional PDFs, either in (Bx,By,Bz)-coordinates or (BR,BT,BN)-coordinates or some other appropriate system of coordinates. Likewise, there exist no studies which investigate three dimensional PDFs of magnetic field fluctuations, that is, vector differences \bmB(t+τ)\bmB(t). In this talk, I shall present examples of three dimensional PDFs obtained from spacecraft data that demonstrate the solar wind magnetic field possesses a very interesting spatial structure that, to my knowledge, has not previously been identified. Perhaps because of the well known model of Barnes (1981) in which the magnitude of the IMF remains constant, it may be commonly believed that there is nothing new to learn from a full three dimensional PDF. To the contrary, there is much to learn from the investigation of three dimensional PDFs of the solar wind plasma velocity and the magnetic field, as well as three dimensional PDFs of their fluctuations. Knowledge of these PDFs will not only improve understanding of solar wind physics, it is an essential prerequisite for the construction of realistic models of the stochastic time series measured by a single spacecraft, one of the longstanding goals of space physics research. In addition, three dimensional PDFs contain valuable information about the anisotropy of solar wind fluctuations in three dimensional physical space, information that may help identify the reason why the three dimensional wave vector spectrum of magnetic field fluctuations in the solar wind is not axisymmetric about the direction of the mean magnetic field as recent observations in the ecliptic plane at 1 AU have shown.