A previously unrecognized source of the O2 Atmospheric band emission in Earth’s nightglow

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Science Advances  20 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaau9255
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau9255


Earth’s night sky continuously produces a faint chemiluminescence known as nightglow. Two prominent nighttime emissions around 90 km are the O2 Atmospheric and the OH Meinel band systems. Despite a plethora of studies since their identification seven decades ago, substantial gaps persist in our understanding of the mechanisms that control them. This report shows that oxygen atoms connect these two emissions: Fast, multiquantum, vibrational-to-electronic relaxation of OH(v) by O atoms activates a pathway that generates O2 Atmospheric band emission. This newly discovered source exhibits a strong altitude dependence and can contribute a majority of the observed O2 Atmospheric band emission when the peaks of the OH and O-atom layers overlap. The new findings call for a reinterpretation of Earth’s nightglow emissions and a revision of relevant atmospheric models.

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