Effects of a Relativistic Electron Beam Interaction with the Upper Atmosphere: Ionization, X-Rays, and Optical Emissions

Monday, 15 December 2014
Robert Andrew Marshall1, Michael J Nicolls2, Ennio R Sanchez2, Nikolai G Lehtinen3 and Jeffrey Neilson4, (1)Stanford University, Los Altos Hills, CA, United States, (2)SRI International, Menlo Park, CA, United States, (3)Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States, (4)SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Menlo Park, CA, United States
An artificial beam of relativistic (0.5--10 MeV) electrons has been proposed as an active experiment in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, with applications to magnetic field-line tracing, studies of wave-particle interactions, and beam-atmosphere interactions. The beam-atmosphere interaction, while a scientific endeavor of its own, also provides key diagnostics for other experiments. We present results of Monte Carlo simulations of the interaction of a beam of relativistic electrons with the upper atmosphere as they are injected downwards from a notional high altitude (thermospheric / ionospheric) injection platform. The beam parameters, defined by realistic parameters of a compact linear accelerator, are used to create a distribution of thousands of electrons. Each electron is injected downwards from 300 km altitude towards the dense atmosphere, where it undergoes elastic and inelastic collisions, leading to secondary ionization, optical emissions, and X-rays via bremsstrahlung. Here we describe the Monte Carlo model and present calculations of diagnostic outputs, including optical emissions, X-ray fluxes, secondary ionization, and backscattered energetic electron fluxes. Optical emissions are propagated to the ground through the lower atmosphere, including the effects of atmospheric absorption and scattering, to estimate the brightness of the emission column for a given beam current and energy. Similarly, X-ray fluxes are propagated to hypothetical detectors on balloons and satellites, taking into account Compton scattering and photoabsorption. Secondary ionization is used to estimate the radar signal returns from various ground-based radar facilities. Finally, simulated backscattered electron fluxes are measured at the injection location. The simulation results show that for realizable accelerator parameters, each of these diagnostics should be readily detectable by appropriate instruments.