MHD simulations of Earth's bow shock: interplanetary magnetic field orientation effects on shape and position

J. F. Chapman, Iver H. Cairns, J. G. Lyon, Christopher R. Boshuizen

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33 Citations (Scopus)


The location and geometry of Earth's bow shock vary considerably with the solar wind conditions. More specifically, Earth's bow shock is formed by the steepening of fast mode waves, whose speed vms depends upon the angle θbn between the local shock normal n and the magnetic field vector BIMF, as well as the Alfvén and sound speeds (vA and cS). Since v ms is a minimum for θbn = 0° and low Alfvén Mach number MA , and maximum for θbn = 90° and high MA , this implies that as θIMF (the angle between BIMF and vsw ) varies, the magnitude of vms should vary also across the shock, leading to changes in shape. This paper presents 3-D MHD simulation data which illustrate the changes in shock location and geometry in response to changes in θIMF and MA , for 1.4 ≤ MA ≤ 9.7 and 0° ≤ θIMF ≤ 90°. Specifically, for oblique IMF the shock's geometry is shown to become skewed in planes containing BIMF (e.g., the x − z plane). This is also emphasized in the terminator plane data, where the shock is best represented by ellipses, with centers translated along the z axis. For the θIMF = 90° simulations the shock is symmetric about the x axis in both the x − y and x − z planes. Simulations for field-aligned flow (θIMF = 0°) show a dimpling of the nose of the shock as MA → 1. The simulations also illustrate the general movement of the shock in response to changes in MA ; high MA shocks are found closer to Earth than low MA shocks. Farris et al.'s [1991] magnetopause model is used in the simulations, and we discuss the limitations of this, as well as the expected results using a self-consistent model.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA04215
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research
Issue numberA4
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • bow shock
  • Earth
  • Mach number
  • magnetohydrodynamics
  • shock waves


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