Volume 617, September 2018
|Number of page(s)||36|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||26 September 2018|
Upper atmospheres of terrestrial planets: Carbon dioxide cooling and the Earth’s thermospheric evolution
University of Vienna, Department of Astrophysics,
2 Space Research Institute, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Graz, Austria
Accepted: 18 June 2018
Context. The thermal and chemical structures of the upper atmospheres of planets crucially influence losses to space and must be understood to constrain the effects of losses on atmospheric evolution.
Aims. We develop a 1D first-principles hydrodynamic atmosphere model that calculates atmospheric thermal and chemical structures for arbitrary planetary parameters, chemical compositions, and stellar inputs. We apply the model to study the reaction of the Earth’s upper atmosphere to large changes in the CO2 abundance and to changes in the input solar XUV field due to the Sun’s activity evolution from 3 Gyr in the past to 2.5 Gyr in the future.
Methods. For the thermal atmosphere structure, we considered heating from the absorption of stellar X-ray, UV, and IR radiation, heating from exothermic chemical reactions, electron heating from collisions with non-thermal photoelectrons, Joule heating, cooling from IR emission by several species, thermal conduction, and energy exchanges between the neutral, ion, and electron gases. For the chemical structure, we considered ~500 chemical reactions, including 56 photoreactions, eddy and molecular diffusion, and advection. In addition, we calculated the atmospheric structure by solving the hydrodynamic equations. To solve the equations in our model, we developed the Kompot code and have provided detailed descriptions of the numerical methods used in the appendices.
Results. We verify our model by calculating the structures of the upper atmospheres of the modern Earth and Venus. By varying the CO2 abundances at the lower boundary (65 km) of our Earth model, we show that the atmospheric thermal structure is significantly altered. Increasing the CO2 abundances leads to massive reduction in thermospheric temperature, contraction of the atmosphere, and reductions in the ion densities indicating that CO2 can significantly influence atmospheric erosion. Our models for the evolution of the Earth’s upper atmosphere indicate that the thermospheric structure has not changed significantly in the last 2 Gyr and is unlikely to change signficantly in the next few Gyr. The largest changes that we see take place between 3 and 2 Gyr ago, with even larger changes expected at even earlier times.
Key words: Earth / planets and satellites: atmospheres / planets and satellites: terrestrial planets / planet-star interactions / Sun: activity
© ESO 2018
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