Space Science Reviews

, Volume 89, Issue 1, pp 21–52

Formation and Evolution of Corotating Interaction Regions and their Three Dimensional Structure


  • J.T. Gosling
    • Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • V.J. Pizzo
    • Space Environment Center, NOAA, Boulder

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005291711900

Cite this article as:
Gosling, J. & Pizzo, V. Space Science Reviews (1999) 89: 21. doi:10.1023/A:1005291711900


Corotating interaction regions are a consequence of spatial variability in the coronal expansion and solar rotation, which cause solar wind flows of different speeds to become radially aligned. Compressive interaction regions are produced where high-speed wind runs into slower plasma ahead. When the flow pattern emanating from the Sun is roughly time-stationary these compression regions form spirals in the solar equatorial plane that corotate with the Sun, hence the name corotating interaction regions, or CIRs. The leading edge of a CIR is a forward pressure wave that propagates into the slower plasma ahead, while the trailing edge is a reverse pressure wave that propagates back into the trailing high-speed flow. At large heliocentric distances the pressure waves bounding a CIR commonly steepen into forward and reverse shocks. Spatial variation in the solar wind outflow from the Sun is a consequence of the solar magnetic field, which modulates the coronal expansion. Because the magnetic equator of the Sun is commonly both warped and tilted with respect to the heliographic equator, CIRs commonly have substantial north-south tilts that are opposed in the northern and southern hemispheres. Thus, with increasing heliocentric distance the forward waves in both hemispheres propagate toward and eventually across the solar equatorial plane, while the reverse shocks propagate poleward to higher latitudes. This paper provides an overview of observations and numerical models that describe the physical origin and radial evolution of these complex three-dimensional (3-D) heliospheric structures.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999