Non-thermal hydrogen atoms in the terrestrial upper thermosphere

Jianqi Qin, Lara Waldrop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Model predictions of the distribution and dynamical transport of hydrogen atoms in the terrestrial atmosphere have long-standing discrepancies with ultraviolet remote sensing measurements, indicating likely deficiencies in conventional theories regarding this crucial atmospheric constituent. Here we report the existence of non-thermal hydrogen atoms that are much hotter than the ambient oxygen atoms in the upper thermosphere. Analysis of satellite measurements indicates that the upper thermospheric hydrogen temperature, more precisely the mean kinetic energy of the atomic hydrogen population, increases significantly with declining solar activity, contrary to contemporary understanding of thermospheric behaviour. The existence of hot hydrogen atoms in the upper thermosphere, which is the key to reconciling model predictions and observations, is likely a consequence of low atomic oxygen density leading to incomplete collisional thermalization of the hydrogen population following its kinetic energization through interactions with hot atomic or ionized constituents in the ionosphere, plasmasphere or magnetosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13655
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Dec 6 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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