Influence of ab initio chemistry models on simulations of the Ionian atmosphere

Neal Parsons, Deborah A. Levin, Andrew C. Walker, Chris H. Moore, David B. Goldstein, Philip L. Varghese, Laurence Trafton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


There is significant scientific interest in simulating the unique atmospheric conditions on the Jovian moon Io that range from cold surface temperatures to hyperthermal interactions which possibly supply the Jovian plasma torus. The Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method is well suited to model the rarefied, predominantly SO2, Ionian atmosphere. High speed collisions between SO2 and the hypervelocity O atoms and ions that compose the plasma torus are a significant mechanism in determining the composition of the atmosphere; therefore, high-fidelity modeling of their interactions is crucial to the accuracy of such simulations. Typically, the Total Collision Energy (TCE) model is used to determine molecular dissociation probabilities and the Variable Hard Sphere (VHS) model is used to determine collision cross sections. However, the parameters for each of these baseline models are based on low-temperature experimental data and thus have unknown reliability for the hyperthermal conditions in the Ionian atmosphere. Recently, Molecular Dynamics/Quasi-Classical Trajectory (MD/QCT) studies have been conducted to generate accurate collision and chemistry models for the SO2-O collision pair in order to replace the baseline models. However, the influence of MD/QCT models on Ionian simulations compared to the previously used models is not well understood. In this work, 1D simulations are conducted using both the MD/QCT-based and baseline models in order to determine the effect of MD/QCT models on Ionian simulations. It is found that atmospheric structure predictions are highly sensitive to the chemistry and collision models. Specifically, the MD/QCT model predicts approximately half the SO2 atmospheric dissociation due to O and O+ bombardment compared to TCE models, and also predicts a temperature rise due to plasma heating further from the Ionian surface than the existing baseline methodologies. These findings indicate that the accurate MD/QCT chemistry and collision models provide a significant improvement over the baseline models for DSMC simulations of the Ionian atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-38
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheres, structure
  • Io
  • Jupiter, satellites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Parsons, N., Levin, D. A., Walker, A. C., Moore, C. H., Goldstein, D. B., Varghese, P. L., & Trafton, L. (2014). Influence of ab initio chemistry models on simulations of the Ionian atmosphere. Icarus, 239, 32-38.