Energy relaxation of helium atoms in astrophysical gases


Journal Article

We report accurate parameters describing energy relaxation of He atoms in atomic gases, important for astrophysics and atmospheric science. Collisional energy exchange between helium atoms and atomic constituents of the interstellar gas, heliosphere, and upper planetary atmosphere has been investigated. Energy transfer rates, number of collisions required for thermalization, energy distributions of recoil atoms, and other major parameters of energy relaxation for fast He atoms in thermal H, He, and O gases have been computed in a broad interval of energies from 10meV to 10keV. This energy interval is important for astrophysical applications involving the energy deposition of energetic atoms and ions into atmospheres of planets and exoplanets, atmospheric evolution, and analysis of non-equilibrium processes in the interstellar gas and heliosphere. Angular- and energy-dependent cross sections, required for an accurate description of the momentum-energy transfer, are obtained using ab initio interaction potentials and quantum mechanical calculations for scattering processes. Calculation methods used include partial wave analysis for collisional energies below 2keV and the eikonal approximation at energies higher than 100eV, keeping a significant energy region of overlap, 0.1-2keV, between these two methods for their mutual verification. The partial wave method and the eikonal approximation excellently match results obtained with each other as well as experimental data, providing reliable cross sections in the astrophysically important interval of energies from 10meV to 10keV. Analytical formulae, interpolating obtained energy- and angular-dependent cross sections, are presented to simplify potential applications of the reported database. Thermalization of fast He atoms in the interstellar gas and energy relaxation of hot He and O atoms in the upper atmosphere of Mars are considered as illustrative examples of potential applications of the new database. © © 2012. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Lewkow, NR; Kharchenko, V; Zhang, P

Published Date

  • January 1, 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 756 / 1

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1538-4357

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0004-637X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1088/0004-637X/756/1/57

Citation Source

  • Scopus