The earth is losing its atmosphere

The earth is losing its atmosphere to space. Each day about 90 tons of matter leave the atmosphere of our planet and goes into space. Given that the total weight of Earth’s atmosphere is 5 x 10^15 tons, it’s not too heavy losses, but the understanding of the causes and mechanisms of this phenomenon is of great importance for the understanding of similar processes on other planets, including potentially habitable.

The magnetic environment in the vicinity of the Earth for a long time studied by scientists with the help of mission of the European space Agency’s Cluster, consisting of four spacecraft, launched in 2000 For more than a decade and a half of the mission with its help, were collected data that has allowed scientists to penetrate deeply into the essence of the phenomenon of the gradual loss of Earth’s atmosphere into space.

According to these results there are two main loss mechanism of the Earth atmospheric gases. In the first of these mechanisms lies the centrifugal force that tells acceleration of ions moving near the poles of our planet where the Earth’s magnetic field weakened. Accelerated ions are ejected in the direction of the magnetic tail of the planet, where they interact with the plasma and back again, thus acquiring a relatively large speed. Such return of high-energy particles pose a threat to spacecraft and has been using Cluster satellites. It should be noted that this mechanism loss occurs mainly heavy ions such as oxygen ions. The researchers discovered a second mechanism is associated with the reconnection of lines of magnetic fields of the Sun and our planet. According to this mechanism, basically lost in space light ions such as hydrogen ions.

One recent study conducted by scientists of the Cluster mission showed that the contribution of each mechanism to the total process depends on the direction of the lines of the interplanetary magnetic field created by the Sun. So, when the southern direction of the lines of the interplanetary magnetic field the main magnetic mechanism is Pertamina, and in the Northern direction of the lines of this field are predominantly ions leave the atmosphere of the Earth near its poles. Both processes increase with increasing solar activity.

A detailed presentation of the results of the analysis of data collected by satellite Cluster, presented in a paper published in the journal of Geophysical Research January 30, 2016; the main author of the study S. H. Lee.

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