Role of the Ionosphere for the Atmospheric Evolution of Planets


Astrobiology October 2007, 7(5): 783-800
http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/ast.2007.0140

We have synthesized current understanding, mainly observations, with regard to ion escape mechanisms to space from the ionosphere and exosphere of Titan and Earth-type planets, with the intent to provide an improved input for models of atmospheric evolution on early Earth and Earth-type planets and exoplanets. We focus on the role of the ionosphere and its non-linear response to solar parameters, all of which have been underestimated in current models of ancient atmospheric escape (4 billion years ago). Factors that have been overlooked include the following: (1) Much larger variation of O+ outflow than H+ outflow from the terrestrial ionosphere, depending on solar and geomagnetic activities (an important consideration when attempting to determine the oxidized state of the atmosphere of early Earth); (2) magnetization of the ionopause, which keeps ionospheric ions from escaping and controls many other escape processes; (3) extra ionization by, for example, the critical ionization velocity mechanism, which expands the ionosphere to greater altitudes than current models predict; and (4) the large escape of cold ions from the dense, expanded ionosphere of Titan. Here we offer, as a guideline for quantitative simulations, a qualitative diagnosis of increases or decreases of non-thermal escape related to the ionosphere for magnetized and unmagnetized planets in response to changes in solar parameters (i.e., solar EUV/FUV flux, solar wind dynamic pressure, and interplanetary magnetic field).

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