The interaction of the solar wind with the planets and the interstellar medium is of key importance for the evolution of our solar system. The interaction with Earth's atmosphere is best known for the northern light. In case of Mars, the interaction with the solar wind might have lead to the erosion of its atmosphere. Solar wind-atmosphere interactions can be studied particularly well in cometary atmospheres, because in that case the solar wind flow is not attenuated by a planetary magnetic field and interacts directly with its atmosphere, the coma. The size of the cometary atmosphere (in the order of 10(4-10^5) km) allows remote tracking of the ions as they penetrate into the comet's atmosphere, offering a unique window on the cometary atmosphere, the solar wind and the interaction of these two plasmas.When solar wind ions fly through an atmosphere they are neutralized via charge exchange reactions with the neutral gaseous species. These reactions depend strongly on target species and collision velocity. The resulting X-ray and Far-UV emission can therefore be regarded as a fingerprint of the underlying reaction, with many diagnostic qualities. My thesis studies have focussed on all aspects relevant for X-ray emission from comets: experimental studies of state-to-state charge exchange cross sections, observations of X-ray emission from comets with Chandra, XMM, and Swift, and theoretical modelling of the interaction of solar wind ions with cometary gasses and the resulting X-ray emission spectrum. Together, this has greatly improved our understanding of the interaction of the solar wind with solar system objects and in more general, of physical processes in wind-environment collisions. The thorough understanding of cometary charge exchange emission has opened the door to the direct observation of more complex solar wind interactions such as those with Mars and Venus.
- Pub Date:
- June 2007