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Physics-based Tests to Identify the Accuracy of Solar Wind Ion Measurements: A Case Study with the Wind Faraday CupsWe present techniques for comparing measurements of velocity, temperature, and density with constraints imposed by the plasma physics of magnetized bi-Maxwellian ions. Deviations from these physics-based constraints are interpreted as arising from measurement errors. Two million ion spectra from the Solar Wind Experiment Faraday Cup instruments on the Wind spacecraft are used as a case study. The accuracy of velocity measurements is determined by the fact that differential flow between hydrogen and helium should be aligned with the ambient magnetic field. Modeling the breakdown of field alignment suggests velocity uncertainties are less than 0.16% in magnitude and 3deg in direction. Temperature uncertainty is found by examining the distribution of observed temperature anisotropies in high-beta solar wind intervals where the firehose, mirror, and cyclotron microinstabilities should drive the distribution to isotropy. The presence of a finite anisotropy at high beta suggests overall temperature uncertainties of 8%. Hydrogen and helium number densities are compared with the electron density inferred from observations of the local electron plasma frequency as a function of solar wind speed and year. We find that after accounting for the contribution of minor ions, the results are consistent with a systematic offset between the two instruments of 34%. The temperature and density methods are sensitive to non-Maxwellian features such as heat flux and proton beams and as a result are more suited to slow solar wind where these features are rare. These procedures are of general use in identifying the accuracy of observations from any solar wind ion instrument.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Kasper, J. C.
(Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. Cambridge, MA, United States)
Lazarus, A. J.
(Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. Cambridge, MA, United States)
Steinberg, J. T.
(Los Alamos National Lab. NM, United States)
Ogilvie, K. W.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Szabo, A.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
August 24, 2013
Publication Date
March 24, 2006
Publication Information
Publication: Journal of Geophysical Research
Volume: 111
Issue: A3
Subject Category
Plasma Physics
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits

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