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How do the nitrogen ions escape the Earth's atmosphere?
  • Mei-Yun Lin,
  • Raluca Ilie,
  • Alex Glocer
Mei-Yun Lin
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Raluca Ilie
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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Alex Glocer
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Nitrogen is the most abundant element in the Earth’s atmosphere. Around 78% N2; and 21% O2; form the air we breathe and expand into high-altitude atmosphere, the thermosphere, and eventually the ionosphere. The neutral molecules in the ionosphere are ionized by solar radiation, and some of them break up into atoms, and others become charged particles. The ionospheric ions with sufficient energy can flow out into space, and the abundances of these outflowing ionospheric ions highly impact the near-Earth plasma properties. Studies focused on outflowing O+ ions have been conducted for many years. However, the contribution of N+ to the outflow solution is still largely unknown due to the instrumental limitations. We developed a first-principled physics model to understand how N+ and molecular ions, including NO+, N2+, and O2+, acquire the sufficient energy to escape Earth’s atmosphere. This study reveals the importance of N+ ions in the high-altitude polar ionosphere, from few hundred kilometers to thousands of kilometers in the space, and examines the possible mechanisms to accelerate and removed them from Earth’s atmosphere.