Evidence for Radiative Recombination of O+ Ions as a Significant Source of O 844.6 nm Emission Excitation

L. Waldrop, R. B. Kerr, Y. Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Photoelectron (PE) impact on ground-state O(3P) atoms is well known as a major source of twilight 844.6 nm emission in the midlatitude thermosphere. Knowledge of the PE flux can be used to infer thermospheric oxygen density, [O], from photometric measurements of 844.6 nm airglow, provided that PE impact is the dominant process generating the observed emission. During several spring observational campaigns at Arecibo Observatory, however, we have observed significant 844.6 nm emission throughout the night, which is unlikely to arise from PE impact excitation which requires solar illumination of either the local or geomagnetically conjugate thermosphere. Here we show that radiative recombination (RR) of O+ ions is likely responsible for the observed nighttime emission, based on model predictions of electron and O+ ion density and temperature by the Incoherent Scatter Radar Ionosphere Model. The calculated emission brightness produced by O + RR exhibits good agreement with the airglow data, in that both decay approximately monotonically throughout the night at similar rates. We conclude that the conventional assumption of a pure PE impact source is most likely to be invalid during dusk twilight, when RR-generated emission is most significant. Estimation of [O] from measurements of 844.6 nm emission demands isolation of the PE impact source via coincident estimation of the RR source, and the effective cross section for RR-generated emission is found here to be consistent with optically thin conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3078-3086
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • airglow photochemistry
  • radiative recombination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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