Europa’s atmospheric neutral escape: Importance of symmetrical O2 charge exchange
Dols et al
We model the interaction of the jovian magnetospheric plasma with the atmosphere of Europa using a multi-species chemistry model where the atmospheric distributions of H2 and O2 are prescribed. The plasma flow is idealized as an incompressible flow around a conducting obstacle. We compute changes in plasma composition resulting from this interaction as well as the reaction rates integrated over the simulation domain for several upstream plasma conditions (ion density, ion temperature and flow velocity). We show that for all cases, the main atmospheric loss process is a cascade of symmetrical charge exchanges on O2, which results in the ejection of neutrals. The production rate of ejected neutrals is about an order of magnitude larger than the production of ions. This conclusion is relevant to future missions to Europa that aim to detect fast neutrals. The neutral ejection resulting from this charge exchange creates an oxygen cloud around the orbit of the moon that is very extended radially but also very tenuous, and has not yet been directly detected.