Power Measurements of Spark Discharge Experiments

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Abstract

An accurate and precise knowledge of the amount of energy introduced into prebiotic discharge experiments is important to understand the relative roles of different energy sources in the synthesis of organic compounds in the primitive Earth's atmosphere and other planetary atmospheres. Two methods widely used to determine the power of spark discharges were evaluated, namely calorimetric and oscilloscopic, using a chemically inert gas. The power dissipated by the spark in argon at 500 Torr was determined to be 2.4 (+12%/_17%) J s_1 by calorimetry and 5.3 (± 15%) J s_1 by the oscilloscope. The difference between the two methods was attributed to (1) an incomplete conversion of the electric energy into heat, and (2) heat loss from the spark channel to the connecting cables through the electrodes. The latter contribution leads to an unwanted effect in the spark channel by lowering the spark product yields as the spark channel cools by mixing with surrounding air and by losing heat to the electrodes. Once the concentrations of the spark products have frozen at the freeze-out temperature, any additional loss of heat from the spark channel to the electrodes has no consequence in product yields. Therefore, neither methods accurately determines the net energy transferred to the system. With a lack of a quantitative knowledge of the amount of heat loss from the spark channel during the interval from ignition of the spark to when the freeze-out temperature is reached, it is recommended to derive the energy yields of the spark products from the mean value of the two methods with the uncertainty being their standard deviation. For the case of argon at 500 Torr, this would be 3.8 (±50%) J s_1.

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