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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 28, issue 8
Ann. Geophys., 28, 1539-1552, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-28-1539-2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 28, 1539-1552, 2010
https://doi.org/10.5194/angeo-28-1539-2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  18 Aug 2010

18 Aug 2010

Selection effects in identifying magnetic clouds and the importance of the closest approach parameter

R. P. Lepping1 and C.-C. Wu2 R. P. Lepping and C.-C. Wu
  • 1Heliosphysics Science Division, NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
  • 2Navel Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. 20735, USA

Abstract. This study is motivated by the unusually low number of magnetic clouds (MCs) that are strictly identified within interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs), as observed at 1 AU; this is usually estimated to be around 30% or lower. But a looser definition of MCs may significantly increase this percentage. Another motivation is the unexpected shape of the occurrence distribution of the observers' "closest approach distances" (measured from a MC's axis, and called CA) which drops off somewhat rapidly as |CA| (in % of MC radius) approaches 100%, based on earlier studies. We suggest, for various geometrical and physical reasons, that the |CA|-distribution should be somewhere between a uniform one and the one actually observed, and therefore the 30% estimate should be higher. So we ask, When there is a failure to identify a MC within an ICME, is it occasionally due to a large |CA| passage, making MC identification more difficult, i.e., is it due to an event selection effect? In attempting to answer this question we examine WIND data to obtain an accurate distribution of the number of MCs vs. |CA| distance, whether the event is ICME-related or not, where initially a large number of cases (N=98) are considered. This gives a frequence distribution that is far from uniform, confirming earlier studies. This along with the fact that there are many ICME identification-parameters that do not depend on |CA| suggest that, indeed an MC event selection effect may explain at least part of the low ratio of (No. MCs)/(No. ICMEs). We also show that there is an acceptable geometrical and physical consistency in the relationships for both average "normalized" magnetic field intensity change and field direction change vs. |CA| within a MC, suggesting that our estimates of |CA|, BO (magnetic field intensity on the axis), and choice of a proper "cloud coordinate" system (all needed in the analysis) are acceptably accurate. Therefore, the MC fitting model (Lepping et al., 1990) is adequate, on average, for our analysis. However, this selection effect is not likely to completely answer our original question, on the unexpected ratio of MCs to ICMEs, so we must look for other factors, such as peculiarities of CME birth conditions. As a by-product of this analysis, we determine that the first order structural effects within a MC due to its interaction with the solar wind, plus the MC's usual expansion at 1 AU (i.e., the non-force free components of the MC's field) are, on average, weakly dependent on radial distance from the MC's axis; that is, in the outer reaches of a typical MC the non-force free effects show up, but even there they are rather weak. Finally, we show that it is not likely that a MC's size distribution statistically controls the occurrence distribution of the estimated |CA|s.

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