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The Astrophysical Journal


We present an observational study using high-resolution echelle spectroscopy of collisionless shocks in the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant. Measured Hα line profiles constrain pre-shock heating processes, shock speeds, and electron-ion equilibration (Te /Ti ). The shocks produce faint Hα emission line profiles, which are characterized by narrow and broad components. The narrow component is representative of the pre-shock conditions, while the broad component is produced after charge transfer between neutrals entering the shock and protons in the post-shock gas, thus reflecting the properties of the post-shock gas. We observe a diffuse Hα region extending about 25 ahead of the shock with line width ~29 km s–1, while the Hα profile of the shock itself consists of broader than expected narrow (36 km s–1) and broad (250 km s–1) components. The observed diffuse emission arises in a photoionization precursor heated to about 18,000 K by He I and He II emission from the shock, with additional narrow component broadening originating from a thin cosmic-ray precursor. Broad to narrow component intensity ratios of ~1.0 imply full electron-ion temperature equilibration Te Ti in the post-shock region. Broad component line widths indicate shock velocities of about 400 km s–1. Combining the shock velocities with proper motions suggests that the distance to the Cygnus Loop is ~890 pc, significantly greater than the generally accepted upper limit of 637 pc.