Generating Plasma During Reentry: The Science Behind Ions in Earth's Atmosphere

In summary, when space vehicles reenter Earth's atmosphere, the air drag creates initial heat which causes diatomic gases like oxygen and nitrogen to dissociate and form ions. The extreme compression near the nose of hypersonic vehicles causes the gas to heat up, leading to ionization. Pressure itself does not provide enough energy for ionization, it is the heat that causes it.
  • #1
Swankie
15
0
How exactly is plasma generated when space vehicles reenter Earth's atmosphere? How do the ions show up? I get how the air drag creates the initial heat, but from there I do not know. Have been searching the net for about 30min and came up with nada.
 
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  • #2
When you get that hot, diatomic gases like oxygen and nitrogen begin to dissociate and you end up with with a bunch of ions floating around.
 
  • #3
Can someone confirm this? I was under the impression that the pressure, not the heat was the initiator
 
  • #4
You need energy for a gas to ionize. Pressure itself doesn't provide that sort of energy. However, the extreme compression that exists near the nose (and a few other areas) of hypersonic vehicles causes the gas to heat up and the heat leads to ionization. It is true that it gets that hot as a result of pressure changes, but it is the heat itself that causes ionization.
 
  • #5
Awesome, thanks for the clarification!
 

Related to Generating Plasma During Reentry: The Science Behind Ions in Earth's Atmosphere

1. What is plasma on a space shuttle?

Plasma is a state of matter that is created when gas is heated to extremely high temperatures, causing the atoms to become ionized and release free electrons. In the context of a space shuttle, plasma is created when the shuttle re-enters Earth's atmosphere and the friction from the air heats the exterior of the shuttle, causing it to glow.

2. How does plasma affect the space shuttle?

Plasma can affect the space shuttle in several ways. First, the heat generated by the plasma can cause damage to the exterior of the shuttle if it gets too hot. Second, the plasma can interfere with communication and navigation systems on the shuttle. Third, plasma can also create drag on the shuttle, slowing it down and affecting its trajectory.

3. How do scientists study plasma on a space shuttle?

Scientists use a variety of instruments and sensors on the space shuttle to study plasma. These may include cameras, spectrometers, and probes that can measure the temperature and density of the plasma. Scientists can also use computer simulations to study and predict the behavior of plasma on a space shuttle.

4. Can plasma on a space shuttle be dangerous?

Yes, plasma on a space shuttle can be dangerous if it reaches extreme temperatures or interferes with critical systems. The intense heat from plasma can damage the shuttle's exterior and cause it to lose control. In addition, plasma can also interfere with communication and navigation systems, posing a risk to the crew on board.

5. How does plasma on a space shuttle compare to plasma on Earth?

Plasma on a space shuttle is similar to plasma on Earth in terms of its properties and behavior. However, the plasma on a space shuttle is created by the friction of air molecules during re-entry, while plasma on Earth is usually created by high temperatures and energy sources such as lightning or nuclear fusion. Additionally, the plasma on a space shuttle is more controlled and contained compared to the natural plasma on Earth.

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