Accurately determining the escape rate from a planet's atmosphere is critical for determining its evolution. A large amount of Cassini data is now available for Titan's upper atmosphere and a wealth of data is expected within the next decade on escape from Pluto, Mars, and extra-solar planets. Escape can be driven by upward thermal conduction of energy deposited well below the exobase, as well as by nonthermal processes produced by energy deposited in the exobase region. Recent applications of a model for escape driven by upward thermal conduction, called the slow hydrodynamic escape model, have resulted in surprisingly large loss rates for the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Based on a molecular kinetic simulation of the exobase region, these rates appear to be orders of magnitude too large. Therefore, the slow hydrodynamic model is evaluated here. It is shown that such a model cannot give a reliable description of the atmospheric temperature profile unless it is coupled to a molecular kinetic description of the exobase region. Therefore, the present escape rates for Titan and Pluto must be re-evaluated using the atmospheric model described here.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- June 2010
- planets and satellites: atmospheres;
- planets and satellites: individual: Titan Pluto;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics