Interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs) are the manifestation of solar transient eruptions, which can significantly modify the plasma and magnetic conditions in the heliosphere. They are often preceded by a shock, and a magnetic flux rope is detected in situ in a third to half of them. The main aim of this study is to obtain the best quantitative shape for the flux rope axis and for the shock surface from in situ data obtained during spacecraft crossings of these structures. We first compare the orientation of the flux rope axes and shock normals obtained from independent data analyses of the same events, observed in situ at 1AU from the Sun. Then we carry out an original statistical analysis of axes/shock normals by deriving the statistical distributions of their orientations. We fit the observed distributions using the distributions derived from several synthetic models describing these shapes. We show that the distributions of axis/shock orientations are very sensitive to their respective shape. One classical model, used to analyze interplanetary imager data, is incompatible with the in situ data. Two other models are introduced, for which the results for axis and shock normals lead to very similar shapes; the fact that the data for MCs and shocks are independent strengthens this result. The model which best fits all the data sets has an ellipsoidal shape with similar aspect ratio values for all the data sets. These derived shapes for the flux rope axis and shock surface have several potential applications. First, these shapes can be used to construct a consistent ICME model. Second, these generic shapes can be used to develop a quantitative model to analyze imager data, as well as constraining the output of numerical simulations of ICMEs. Finally, they will have implications for space weather forecasting, in particular, for forecasting the time arrival of ICMEs at the Earth.
- ICME shocks
- In situ observations
- Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections
- Magnetic clouds