Atmospheric escape

Surface gravity, the force that holds down an atmosphere, differs significantly among the planets. For example, the large gravitational force of the giant planet Jupiter is able to retain light gases such as hydrogen and helium that escape from objects with lower gravity. Secondly, the distance from the Sun determines the energy available to heat atmospheric gas to the point where some fraction of its molecules' thermal motion exceed the planet's escape velocity, allowing those to escape a planet's gravitational grasp. Thus, the distant and cold Titan, Triton, and Pluto are able to retain their atmospheres despite their relatively low gravities. Rogue planets, theoretically, may also retain thick atmospheres. Since a collection of gas molecules be moving at a wide range of velocities, there will always be some fast enough to produce a slow leakage of gas into space. Lighter molecules move faster than heavier ones with the same thermal kinetic energy, and so gases of low molecular weight are lost more rapidly than those of high molecular weight. It is thought that Venus and Mars may have lost much of their water when, after being photo dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen by solar ultraviolet, the hydrogen escaped. Earth's magnetic field helps to prevent this, as, normally, the solar wind would greatly enhance the escape of hydrogen. However, over the past 3 billion years Earth may have lost gases through the magnetic polar regions due to auroral activity, including a net 2% of its atmospheric oxygen. Other mechanisms that can cause atmosphere depletion are solar wind-induced sputtering, impact erosion, weathering, and sequestration—sometimes referred to as "freezing out"—into the regolith and polar caps.

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