A study of the unique role of impurities in the initial stages of ionization relaxation in shock-heated argon, using a sampling mass spectrometer to determine the ionic products of the reaction, is described. The ions are extracted from the shock tube through a small orifice in the end wall after they have diffused through the dense thermal layer adjacent to the wall from the ionizing gas behind the reflected shock wave. The ion diffusion is analysed in detail to assess the possibility that the sampling process alters the reaction products. It is shown that this is unlikely because the impurities are in dilute concentration and the reaction is studied in its initial stages. This mode of sampling is compared with others.
The experiments were conducted in argon at temperature of 16,600 °K and pressure of 16 mmHg with an estimated impurity level of 300 parts per million. A surprisingly large number of different ions were detected during the initial stages of ionization. O+ and H+ were found in much greater amounts than any of the other products, each being about five times more abundant than A+. The results suggest that H2O is probably quite generally the most important impurity in thermal-ionization experiments, and that ionization ‘incubation’ is due to dissociation of molecular impurities (especially H2O) before ionization commences. Possible explanations of the well-known efficiency of small amounts of impurities in initiating ionization are discussed.
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