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Composition of matter in the heliosphere

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2008

Peter Bochsler*
Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Sidlerstrasse 5, CH-3012, Bern, Switzerland Space Science Center, EOS, University of New Hampshire, Durham NH, USA email:
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The Sun is by far the largest reservoir of matter in the solar system and contains more than 99% of the mass of the solar system. Theories on the formation of the solar system maintain that the gravitational collapse is very efficient and that typically not more than one tenth from the solar nebula is lost during the formation process. Consequently, the Sun can be considered as a representative sample of interstellar matter taken from a well mixed reservoir 4.6 Gy ago, at about 8 kpc from the galactic center. At the same time, the Sun is also a faithful witness of the composition of matter at the beginning of the evolution of the solar system and the formation of planets, asteroids, and comets. Knowledge on the solar composition and a fair account of the related uncertainties is relevant for many fields in astrophysics, planetary sciences, cosmo- and geochemistry. Apart from the basic interest in the chemical evolution of the galaxy and the solar system, compositional studies have also led to many applications in space research, i.e., it has helped to distinguish between different components of diffuse heliospheric matter. The elemental, isotopic, and charge state composition of heliospheric particles (solar wind, interstellar neutrals, pickup ions) has been used for a multitude of applications, such as tracing the source material, constraining parameters for models of the acceleration processes, and of the transport through the interplanetary medium. It is important to realize, that the two mainstream applications, as outlined above – geochemistry and cosmochemistry on one side, and tracing of heliospheric processes on the other side – are not independent of each other. Understanding the physical processes, e.g., of the fractionation of the solar wind, is crucial for the interpretation of compositional data; on the other hand, reliable information on the source composition is the basis for putting constraints on models of the solar wind fractionation.

Contributed Papers
Copyright © International Astronomical Union 2009


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