An experimental challenge
Why is there so much uncertainty about the speed or rate of formation of nitric acid? In large part, because instead of combining to form a stable form of nitric acid, a hydroxyl radical may combine with nitrogen dioxide to form a less stable form of nitric acid (HOONO)--a snake-like molecule that quickly breaks apart in the atmosphere. This breakdown of the unstable form of nitric acid releases its hydroxyl radical back into the atmosphere where it may once again become available to form ozone; this breakdown therefore speeds the formation of ozone. Nevertheless questions about the existence, amount, speed and formation of the unstable form of nitric acid have, until now, complicated measurements of the speed or rate of the formation of the more stable form of nitric acid.
But through experiments conducted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and at the California Institute of Technology using state-of-the-art techniques, Okumura and his colleague, Stanley P. Sander at JPL, led a team of researchers that accurately measured: 1) the overall speed at which hydroxyl radicals and nitrogen dioxide combine, or react, in given atmospheric conditions; 2) the ratio of stable nitric acid to unstable nitric acid that is formed under given atmospheric conditions.
In addition, new laser methods enabled researchers to directly detect the presence of the unstable form of nitric acid in microseconds. And with the help of companion calculations performed at Ohio State by Anne McCoy, they could quantify its yield as soon as it was formed.
|Contact: Lily Whiteman|
National Science Foundation