Statistics of solar wind electron breakpoint energies using machine learning techniques

Mayur Bakrania*, Jonathan Rae, Andrew Walsh, Daniel Verscharen, Andy Smith, Téo Bloch, Clare Watt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Solar wind electron velocity distributions at 1 au consist of a thermal "core"population and two suprathermal populations: "halo"and "strahl". The core and halo are quasi-isotropic, whereas the strahl typically travels radially outwards along the parallel or anti-parallel direction with respect to the interplanetary magnetic field. Using Cluster-PEACE data, we analyse energy and pitch angle distributions and use machine learning techniques to provide robust classifications of these solar wind populations. Initially, we used unsupervised algorithms to classify halo and strahl differential energy flux distributions to allow us to calculate relative number densities, which are of the same order as previous results. Subsequently, we applied unsupervised algorithms to phase space density distributions over ten years to study the variation of halo and strahl breakpoint energies with solar wind parameters. In our statistical study, we find both halo and strahl suprathermal breakpoint energies display a significant increase with core temperature, with the halo exhibiting a more positive correlation than the strahl. We conclude low energy strahl electrons are scattering into the core at perpendicular pitch angles. This increases the number of Coulomb collisions and extends the perpendicular core population to higher energies, resulting in a larger difference between halo and strahl breakpoint energies at higher core temperatures. Statistically, the locations of both suprathermal breakpoint energies decrease with increasing solar wind speed. In the case of halo breakpoint energy, we observe two distinct profiles above and below 500 km s-1. We relate this to the difference in origin of fast and slow solar wind.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA46
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


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