Space Science Reviews

, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 429-671

First online:

Physics of Mass Loaded Plasmas

  • Károly SzegöAffiliated withKFKI Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics
  • , Karl-Heinz GlassmeierAffiliated withInstitut für Geophysik und Meteorologie, Technische Universität Braunschweig
  • , Robert BinghamAffiliated withRutherford Appleton Laboratory
  • , Alexander BogdanovAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik
  • , Christian FischerAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik
  • , Gerhard HaerendelAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik
  • , Armando BrincaAffiliated withCentro de Fisica de Plasmas, Instituto Superior Tecnico
  • , Tom CravensAffiliated withDepartment of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kansas
  • , Eduard DubininAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie
    • , Konrad SauerAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie
    • , Len FiskAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
    • , Tamas GombosiAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
    • , Nathan SchwadronAffiliated withUniversity of Michigan
    • , Phil IsenbergAffiliated withSpace Science Center, Morse Hall, University of New Hampshire
    • , Martin LeeAffiliated withSpace Science Center, Morse Hall, University of New Hampshire
    • , Christian MazelleAffiliated withCNRS-CESR, 9
    • , Eberhard MöbiusAffiliated withSpace Science Center, Morse Hall, University of New Hampshire
    • , Uwe MotschmannAffiliated withInstitut für Theoretische Physik, Technische Universität Braunschweig
    • , Vitali D. ShapiroAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, University of California San Diego
    • , Bruce TsurutaniAffiliated withJet Propulsion Laboratory 169-506
    • , Gary ZankAffiliated withThe Bartol Research Institute, The University of Delaware

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In space plasmas the phenomenon of mass loading is common. Comets are one of the most evident objects where mass loading controls to a large extent the structure and dynamics of its plasma environment. New charged material is implanted to the fast streaming solar wind by planets, moons, other solar system objects, and even by the interstellar neutral gas flowing through our solar system. In this review we summarize both the current observations and the relevant theoretical approaches. First we survey the MHD methods, starting with a discussion how mass loading affects subsonic and supersonic gasdynamics flows, continuing this with single and multi-fluid MHD approaches to describe the flow when mass, momentum and energy is added, and we finish this section by the description of mass loaded shocks. Next we consider the kinetic approach to the same problem, discussing wave excitations, pitch angle and energy scattering in linear and quasi-linear approximations. The different descriptions differ in assumptions and conclusions; we point out the differences, but it is beyond the scope of the paper to resolve all the conflicts. Applications of these techniques to comets, planets, artificial ion releases, and to the interplanetary neutrals are reviewed in the last section, where observations are also compared with models, including hybrid simulations as well. We conclude the paper with a summary of the most important open, yet unsolved questions.