MOLECULAR-KINETIC SIMULATIONS OF ESCAPE FROM THE EX-PLANET AND EXOPLANETS: CRITERION FOR TRANSONIC FLOW
The equations of gas dynamics are extensively used to describe atmospheric loss from solar system bodies and exoplanets even though the boundary conditions at infinity are not uniquely defined. Using molecular-kinetic simulations that correctly treat the transition from the continuum to the rarefied region, we confirm that the energy-limited escape approximation is valid when adiabatic expansion is the dominant cooling process. However, this does not imply that the outflow goes sonic. Rather large escape rates and concomitant adiabatic cooling can produce atmospheres with subsonic flow that are highly extended. Since this affects the heating rate of the upper atmosphere and the interaction with external fields and plasmas, we give a criterion for estimating when the outflow goes transonic in the continuum region. This is applied to early terrestrial atmospheres, exoplanet atmospheres, and the atmosphere of the ex-planet, Pluto, all of which have large escape rates.