Low-Altitude Emission of Energetic Neutral Atoms: Multiple Interactions and Energy Loss

K. LLera, J. Goldstein, D. J. McComas, P. W. Valek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Low-altitude emissions (LAEs) are the energetic neutral atom (ENA) signature of ring current ions precipitating along the magnetic field to an altitude of 200–800 km. This altitude region is considered to be “optically thick” because ring current ions undergo multiple charge changing interactions (MCCIs) with Earth's dense oxygen exosphere. While each interaction involves an energy loss of ~36 eV, no prior study has determined the accumulated energy lost by 1–100 keV H+ emerging as LAEs. We have developed a 2-D model with a geomagnetic dipole that captures the net effects in energy loss and pitch angle evolution as a result of MCCIs without the computational requirements of a full Monte Carlo simulation. Dependent on the amount of latitudinal migration, the energy loss is greater than 20% for ions below 60 keV for equatorward moving particles (30 keV for poleward). Since the ENA travels ballistically across a geomagnetic dipole, upon reionization, ion velocity along the local field increases (antiparallel in the northern hemisphere). Redirecting the particle upward through MCCIs is most effective during poleward ENA motion. The net effect is to redirect precipitating ions (below 2,500 km) to eventually emerge from the optically thick region either as an ion or ENA. Precipitation is a joint ion-neutral process, affecting both the energy and pitch angle distribution through the transverse motion of ENA segments in a converging field. For particles that enter the MCCI regime, the energy loss and evolution of the pitch angle distribution must be considered within a realistic magnetic field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10,203-10,234
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics


  • H particle
  • energetic neutral atom
  • energy loss
  • ion-neutral interactions
  • precipitation


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