Latitudinal structure and north-south asymmetry of the solar wind from Lyman-alpha remote sensing by SWAN
Based on SWAN/SOHO observations carried out during 1996-2002, we analyze latitudinal profiles of the heliospheric backscatter Lyman-alpha radiation. We use these results to investigate the ionization field of neutral hydrogen in the inner heliosphere and the latitudinal distribution of the solar wind mass flux. The the depth and latitudinal range of the equatorial depression in the Lyman-alpha backscatter glow (the so-called ``groove'') are correlated with the corresponding parameters of the ionization field. We show that the groove is entirely due to latitudinal anisotropy of the solar wind, since, as we are able to demonstrate, the photoionization rate remains spherically symmetric throughout the solar cycle. During the last solar minimum the groove was well developed and stable. During the ascending phase of solar activity, it expanded in latitude (first south, then north), and disappeared altogether during the solar maximum. Shortly after the maximum it reappeared, but its structure was more complex than during the ascending phase. The groove feature is correlated with the equatorial band occupied by the slow solar wind, while the polar maxima of the Lyman-alpha intensity correspond to the fast solar wind from the polar holes. The groove observations (supported by appropriate modeling) show that during the last solar minimum the mass flux of the fast solar wind from the north and south polar holes were different from each other: a true north-south asymmetry between the polar regions was detected. During the solar minimum, the area occupied by the slow solar wind was quite stable and offset slightly to the south with respect to the solar equator: it extended to about 30° N and 35° S from the beginning of observations in May 1996 till 1998. Then it expanded by about 10degr north and south, and subsequently migrated towards southern latitudes, so that it engulfed the south pole in May/June 2000. The north region of the fast wind survived longer and disappeared as late as November/December 2001. To check for the persistence of the north-south asymmetry, we analyze as a proxy the net sunspot area in the north and south hemispheres of the Sun during the 12 past solar cycles. Small north-south asymmetries are found to be commonplace during the past cycles, but the polarity of the asymmetries changes, leaving no statistically significant remnant asymmetry. This suggests that the solar dynamo is solely responsible for the asymmetry, with no remnant magnetic field from the protosolar nebula.The authors dedicate this paper to the memory of Dr. Daniel Ruciński (1953-2002).