Plasma-induced Evolution of Planetary Atmospheres and Surfaces

Objects in the solar system are exposed to a variety of plasmas: the solar wind and solar energetic particles, trapped magnetospheric plasmas, and the galactic cosmic rays. The impacting ions and electrons can affect the evolution of their atmospheres or surfaces. At Virginia we have been using molecular Monte Carlo simulations to describe the effect of an impacting plasma flux on a variety of objects of interest for a number of recent or proposed spacecraft missions. After an overview of our work, I will focus on two examples: the transfer of atmosphere from Pluto to its moon Charon, as related to the New Horizon encounter, and Saturn’s ring atmosphere, as related to Cassini’s end of mission studies in the coming year.

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