A Generalized Townsend's Theory for Paschen Curves in Planar, Cylindrical, and Spherical Geometries in Planetary Atmospheres

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Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres

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In this work, we focus on plasma discharges produced between two electrodes with a high potential difference, resulting in the ionization of the neutral particles supporting a current in a gaseous medium. At low currents and low temperatures, this process can create luminescent emissions: glow and corona discharges. The parallel plate geometry used in Townsend's theory lets us develop a theoretical formalism, with explicit solutions for the critical voltage effectively reproducing experimental Paschen curves. However, most discharge processes occur in non-parallel plate geometries, such as discharges between particles in multiphase systems and between cylindrical conductors. Here, we propose a generalization of the classic parallel plate configurations to concentric spherical and coaxial cylindrical geometries in Earth, Mars, Titan, and Venus atmospheres. In a spherical case, a small radius effectively represents a sharp tip rod, while larger, centimeter-scale radii represent blunted tips. In cylindrical geometries, small radii resemble thin wires. We solve continuity equations in the gap and estimate a critical radius and minimum breakdown voltage that allows the formation of a glow discharge. We show that glow coronæ form more easily in Mars's low-pressure, CO2-rich atmosphere than in Earth's high-pressure, N2-rich atmosphere. Additionally, we present breakdown criteria for Titan and Venus, two planets where discharge processes have been postulated. We further demonstrate that critical voltage minima occur at 0.5 cm⋅Torr for all three investigated geometries, suggesting easier initiation around millimeter-size particles in dust and water clouds. This approach could be readily extended to examine other multiphase flows with inertial particles.


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American Geophysical Union