Letter | Published:

Solar-wind sputtering of the martian atmosphere

Naturevolume 272pages803804 (1978) | Download Citation



IN the sputtering process an incident particle beam loses part of its energy to recoil motion of target atoms, some of which may escape through a nearby surface. The sputtering yield, S, is defined as the number of atoms ejected per incident particle. In the Solar System, sputtering will occur whenever the solar wind, consisting mainly of 1 keV AMU−1 hydrogen and helium ions, strikes a material body. Many years ago, Wehner et al.1 suggested that solar wind-induced sputtering of the lunar surface should be an important cause of erosion; recently, analyses2 of returned lunar material have been interpreted quantitatively3 in terms of such solar-wind sputtering. Mars provides another example of the interaction of the solar wind with a planetary body. However, in contrast to the lunar surface, the martian surface is largely protected from direct solar wind bombardment by its atmosphere. The primarily CO2 atmosphere is thin by terrestrial standards but still opaque to the solar wind. We discuss here whether solar-wind sputtering of the martian atmosphere is a mechanism leading to significant mass loss.

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  1. W. K. Kellogg Radiation Laboratory 106-38, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, 91125

    • P. K. HAFF
    • , Z. E. SWITKOWSKI
    •  & T. A. TOMBRELLO
  2. A. W. Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory, Yale University, New Haven, Conneticut, 06520

    • P. K. HAFF
  3. School of Physics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, 3052, Australia



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