Dissociative Recombination in Planetary Ionospheres

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Conference Proceeding

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Ionization in planetary atmospheres can be produced by solar photoionization, photoelectron impact ionization, and, in auroral regions, by impact of precipitating particles. This ionization is lost mainly in dissociative recombination (DR) of molecular ions. Although atomic ions cannot undergo DR, they can be transformed locally through ion-molecule reactions into molecular ions, or they may be transported vertically or horizontally to regions of the atmosphere where such transformations are possible. Because DR reactions tend to be very exothermic, they can be an important source of kinetically or internally excited fragments. In interplanetary thermospheres, the neutral densities decrease exponentially with altitude. Below the homopause (or turbopause), the atmosphere is assumed to be thoroughly mixed by convection and/or turbulence. Above the homopause, diffusion is the major transport mechanism, and each species is distributed according to its mass, with the logarithmic derivative of the density with respect to altitude given approximately by -1/H, where H = kT/mg is the scale height. In this expression, T is the neutral temperature, g is the local acceleration of gravity, and m is the mass of the species. Thus lighter species become relatively more abundant, and heavier species less abundant, as the altitude increases. This variation of the neutral composition can lead to changes in the ion composition; furthermore, as the neutral densities decrease, dissociative recombination becomes more important relative to ion-neutral reactions as a loss mechanism for molecular ions.

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