Multi-spacecraft observations of the structure of the sheath of an interplanetary coronal mass ejection and related energetic ion enhancement


Context. Sheath regions ahead of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large-scale heliospheric structures that form gradually with CME expansion and propagation from the Sun. Turbulent and compressed sheaths could contribute to the acceleration of charged particles in the corona and in interplanetary space, but the relation of their internal structure to the particle energization process is still a relatively little studied subject. In particular, the role of sheaths in accelerating particles when the shock Mach number is low is a significant open research problem. Aims. This work seeks to provide new insights on the internal structure of CME-driven sheaths with regard to energetic particle enhancements. A good opportunity to achieve this aim was provided by multi-point, in-situ observations of a sheath region made by radially aligned spacecraft at 0.8 and ∼1 AU (Solar Orbiter, the L1 spacecraft Wind and ACE, and BepiColombo) on April 19−21, 2020. The sheath was preceded by a weak and slowly propagating fast-mode shock. Methods. We apply a range of analysis techniques to in situ magnetic field, plasma and particle observations. The study focuses on smaller scale sheath structures and magnetic field fluctuations that coincide with energetic ion enhancements. Results. Energetic ion enhancements were identified in the sheath, but at different locations within the sheath structure at Solar Orbiter and L1. Magnetic fluctuation amplitudes at inertial-range scales increased in the sheath relative to the solar wind upstream of the shock, as is typically observed. However, when normalised to the local mean field, fluctuation amplitudes did not increase significantly; magnetic compressibility of fluctuation also did not increase within the sheath. Various substructures were found to be embedded within the sheath at the different spacecraft, including multiple heliospheric current sheet (HCS) crossings and a small-scale flux rope. At L1, the ion flux enhancement was associated with the HCS crossings, while at Solar Orbiter, the ion enhancement occurred within a compressed, small-scale flux rope. Conclusions. Several internal smaller-scale substructures and clear difference in their occurrence and properties between the used spacecraft was identified within the analyzed CME-driven sheath. These substructures are favourable locations for the energization of charged particles in interplanetary space. In particular, substructures that are swept from the upstream solar wind and compressed into the sheath can act as effective acceleration sites. A possible acceleration mechanism is betatron acceleration associated with a small-scale flux rope and warped HCS compressed in the sheath, while the contribution of shock acceleration to the latter cannot be excluded.

Astronomy & Astrophysics