The influence of bremsstrahlung on electric discharge streamers in N2, O2 gas mixtures

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Streamers are ionization filaments of electric gas discharges. Negative polarity streamers propagate primarily through electron impact ionization, whereas positive streamers in air develop through ionization of oxygen by UV photons emitted by excited nitrogen; however, experiments show that positive streamers may develop even for low oxygen concentrations. Here we explore if bremsstrahlung ionization facilitates positive streamer propagation. To discriminate between effects of UV and bremsstrahlung ionization, we simulate the formation of a double headed streamer at three different oxygen concentrations: no oxygen, 1 ppm O2 and 20% O2, as in air. At these oxygen levels, UV-relative to bremsstrahlung ionization is zero, small, and large. The simulations are conducted with a particle-in-cell code in a cylindrically symmetric configuration at ambient electric field magnitudes three times the conventional breakdown field. We find that bremsstrahlung induced ionization in air, contrary to expectations, reduces the propagation velocity of both positive and negative streamers by about 15%. At low oxygen levels, positive streamers stall; however, bremsstrahlung creates branching sub-streamers emerging from the streamer front that allow propagation of the streamer. Negative streamers propagate more readily forming branching sub-streamers. These results are in agreement with experiments. At both polarities, ionization patches are created ahead of the streamer front. Electrons with the highest energies are in the sub-streamer tips and the patches.
Original languageEnglish
Article number015006
JournalPlasma Sources Science and Technology
Issue number1
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

This article has been selected by the editors of Plasma Sources Science and Technology for inclusion in the exclusive Highlights of 2017 collection. Papers are chosen to represent the excellence and breadth of the work published in 2017.

Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.


  • Bremsstrahlung
  • Streamers
  • Photoionization
  • N2:O2 mixtures

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