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Theoretical overview and modeling of the sodium and potassium atmospheres of the moon
Smyth, William H.; Marconi, M. L.
AA(Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, US), AB(Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc., Cambridge, MA, US)
Astrophysical Journal, Part 1 (ISSN 0004-637X), vol. 443, no. 1, p. 371-392 (ApJ Homepage)
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NASA/STI Keywords:
Atmospheric Models, Lunar Atmosphere, Moon, Potassium, Sodium, Annual Variations, Atmospheric Composition, Gas-Solid Interfaces, Ion Sources, Lunar Gravitation, Mathematical Models, Sinks, Solar Wind, Spatial Distribution, Transport Theory
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A general theoretical overview for the sources, sinks, gas-surface interactions, and transport dynamics of sodium and potassium in the exospheric atmosphere of the Moon is given. These four factors, which control the spatial distribution of these two alkali-group gases about the Moon, are incorporated in numerical models. The spatial nature and relative importance of the initial source atoms atmosphere (which must be nonthermal to explain observational data) and the ambient (ballistic hopping) atom atmosphere are examined. The transport dynamics, atmospheric structure, and lunar escape of the nonthermal source atoms are time variable with season of the year and lunar phase because of their dependence on the radiation acceleration experienced by sodium and potassium atoms as they resonantly scatter solar photons. The dynamic transport time of fully thermally accomodated ambient atoms along the surface because of solar radiation acceleration (only several percent of surface gravity) is larger than the photoionization lifetimes and hence unimportant in determining the local density, although for potassium the situation is borderline. The sodium model was applied to analyze sodium observations of the sunward brightness profiles acquired near last quarter by Potter & Morgan (1988b) extending from the surface to an altitude of 1200 km, and near first quarter by Mendillo, Baumgardner, & Flynn (1991), extending in altitude from approximately 1430 to approximately 7000 km. The observations at larger altitudes could be fitted only for source atoms having a velocity distribution with a tail that is mildly nonthermal (like an approximately 1000 K Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution). Solar wind sputtering appears to a be a viable source atom mechanism for the sodium observations with photon-simulated desorption also possible but highly uncertain, although micrometeoroid impact vaporization appears to have a source that is too small and too hot, with likely an incorrect angular distribution about the Moon.

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