Noble gases, nitrogen, and methane from the deep interior to the atmosphere of Titan

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Christopher R. Glein

Titan’s thick N2–CH4 atmosphere is unlike any in the Solar System, and its origin has been shrouded in mystery for over half a century. Here, I perform a detailed analysis of chemical and isotopic data from the Cassini–Huygens mission to develop the hypothesis that Titan’s (non-photochemical) atmospheric gases came from deep within. It is suggested that Titan’s CH4, N2, and noble gases originated in a rocky core buried inside the giant satellite, and hydrothermal and cryovolcanic processes were critical to the creation of Titan’s atmosphere. Mass balance and chemical equilibrium calculations demonstrate that all aspects of this hypothesis can be considered geochemically plausible with respect to contemporary observational, experimental, and theoretical knowledge. Specifically, I show that a rocky core with a bulk noble gas content similar to that in CI carbonaceous meteorites would contain sufficient 36Ar and 22Ne to explain their reported abundances. I also show that Henry’s law constants for noble gases in relevant condensed phases can be correlated with the size of their atoms, which leads to expected mixing ratios for 84Kr (∼0.2ppbv) and 132Xe (∼0.01ppbv) that can explain why these species have yet to be detected (Huygens upper limit <10ppbv). The outgassing of volatiles into Titan’s atmosphere may be restricted by the stability of clathrate hydrates in Titan’s interior. The noble gas geochemistry also provides significant new insights into the origin of N2 and CH4 on Titan, as I find that Ar and N2, and Kr and CH4 should exhibit similar phase partitioning behavior on Titan. One implication is that over 95% of Titan’s N2 may still reside in the interior. Another key result is that the upper limit from the Huygens GC–MS on the Kr/CH4 ratio in Titan’s atmosphere is far too low to be consistent with accretion of primordial CH4 clathrate, which motivates me to consider endogenic production of CH4 from CO2 as a result of geochemical reactions between liquid water and anhydrous rock (i.e., serpentinization). I show that sufficient CH4 can be produced to replenish Titan’s atmosphere many times over in the face of irreversible photolysis and escape of CH4, which is consistent with the favored model of episodic cryovolcanic outgassing. There should also have been enough NH3 inside Titan so that its thermal decomposition in a hot rocky core can generate the observed atmospheric N2, and if correct this model would imply that Titan’s interior has experienced vigorous hydrothermal processing. The similarity in 14N/15N between cometary NH3 and Titan’s N2 is consistent with this picture. As for the isotopes in CH4, I show that their observed relative abundances can be explained by low-temperature (∼20°C) equilibria with liquid water (D/H) and the expected aqueous alteration mineral calcite (12C/13C), provided that nickel was present to catalyze isotopic exchange over geologic timescales. The present hypothesis is chemically and isotopically consistent with the Cassini–Huygens data, and it implies that the formation of Titan’s atmosphere would have been an unavoidable consequence of volatile processing that was driven by the geophysical evolution of the interior. If all of the atmospheric N2 and CH4 have an endogenic origin, then no more than ∼1.6 times the present amount of N2 can be lost by photochemistry and escape over the history of the atmosphere; and the D/H ratio in Titan’s water should be much lower than that in Enceladus’ plume. Given its important implications to the origin and evolution of volatiles in the outer Solar System, we must go back to Titan to acquire additional isotopic data that will allow more rigorous tests of models of the origin of its atmosphere. I predict the following isotopic ratios: 20Ne/22Ne8.9, 36Ar/38Ar5.3,
( 14 N / 15 N ) NH 3 130 170

( 12 C / 13 C ) CO 2 84

( D / H ) H 2 O 1.7 × 10 - 4

; and recommend that future in situ instrumentation have the capability to measure the rare isotopologues of N2 and CH4, which represent previously unconsidered but potentially valuable sources of geochemical information on the origin and evolution of Titan’s atmosphere.

Martian atmospheric collapse: Idealized GCM studies

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Alejandro Soto , Michael Mischna , Tapio Schneider , Christopher Lee , Mark Richardson

Global energy balance models of the martian atmosphere predict that, for a range of total CO2 inventories, the CO2 atmosphere may condense until a state with a permanent polar cap is reached. This process, which is commonly referred to as atmospheric collapse, may limit the time available for physical and chemical weathering. The global energy balance models that predict atmospheric collapse represent the climate using simplified parameterizations for atmospheric processes such as radiative transfer and atmospheric heat transport. However, a more detailed representation of these atmospheric processes is critical when the atmosphere is near a transition, such as the threshold for collapse. Therefore, we use the Mars Weather Research and Forecasting (MarsWRF) general circulation model (GCM) to investigate how the explicit representation of meridional heat transport and more detailed radiative transfer affects the onset of atmospheric collapse. Using MarsWRF, we find that previous energy balance modeling underestimates the range of CO2 inventories for which the atmosphere collapses and that the obliquity of Mars determines the range of CO2 inventories that can collapse. For a much larger range of CO2 inventories than expected, atmospheric heat transport is insufficient to prevent the atmospheric collapse. We show that the condensation of CO2 onto Olympus Mons and adjacent mountains generates a condensation flow. This condensation flow syphons energy that would otherwise be transported poleward, which helps explain the large range of CO2 inventories for which the atmosphere collapses.

The Steinheim Basin impact crater (SW-Germany) – Where are the ejecta?

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Elmar Buchner , Martin Schmieder

The ∼24km Nördlinger Ries and the ∼3.8km Steinheim Basin in southern Germany are thought to represent a ∼14.8Ma old impact crater doublet. The complex craters of the Steinheim Basin with its crater fill deposits and the Nördlinger Ries and its voluminous impact ejecta blanket are still widely preserved. Although located in an environmental setting that presumably underwent the same erosional history as the Ries crater, field geologic studies suggest that no proximal or distal ejecta of the Steinheim impact event are presently preserved. Generally, the lack of the ejecta blanket around the crater could be explained either by intense erosion, the scarcity of outcrops, or it never formed. In contrast to the lack of ejecta, fluvial and lacustrine Middle Miocene sediments deposited prior to, synchronous with, and shortly after the impact are preserved in many places in the surroundings of to the Steinheim Basin. On low-density asteroids or planets with highly porous target rocks (⩾30–40% effective porosity), impact structures can form without significant ejecta outside the craters due to the compaction of porosity and a concordant drastic reduction of the ejecta velocity. In the Steinheim area, the target rocks comprised loose, porous Miocene sands, Upper Jurassic limestones and Middle Jurassic porous sand- and claystones. The average porosity of the entire sedimentary target suite may have reached 20–30% or even higher values assuming the existence of open karst cavities in the Upper Jurassic carbonates. Compaction of the porous target rocks, resulting in the reduction of ejected material, in combination with erosion could explain the apparent lack of impact ejecta in the wider periphery of the Steinheim impact structure. The Steinheim Basin represents the first proposed terrestrial example of an impact crater characterized by porosity-related ejecta suppression, and it is suggested that other sediment-hosted impact structures on Earth might exhibit analogous excavation-process characteristics.

New methodology to determine the terminal height of a fireball

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Manuel Moreno-Ibáñez , Maria Gritsevich , Josep M. Trigo-Rodríguez

Despite ablation and drag processes associated with atmospheric entry of meteoroids were a subject of intensive study over the last century, little attention was devoted to interpret the observed fireball terminal height. This is a key parameter because it not only depends on the initial mass, but also on the bulk physical properties of the meteoroids and hence on their ability to ablate in the atmosphere. In this work we have developed a new approach that is tested using the fireball terminal heights observed by the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project operated in Canada between 1970 and 1985 (hereafter referred as MORP). We then compare them to the calculation made. Our results clearly show that the new methodology is able to forecast the degree of deepening of meteoroids in the Earth’s atmosphere. Then, this approach has important applications in predicting the impact hazard from cm- to meter-sized bodies that are represented, in part, in the MORP bolide list.

Graphical abstract


GCM simulations of Titan’s middle and lower atmosphere and comparison to observations

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Juan M. Lora , Jonathan I. Lunine , Joellen L. Russell

Simulation results are presented from a new general circulation model (GCM) of Titan, the Titan Atmospheric Model (TAM), which couples the Flexible Modeling System (FMS) spectral dynamical core to a suite of external/sub-grid-scale physics. These include a new non-gray radiative transfer module that takes advantage of recent data from Cassini–Huygens, large-scale condensation and quasi-equilibrium moist convection schemes, a surface model with “bucket” hydrology, and boundary layer turbulent diffusion. The model produces a realistic temperature structure from the surface to the lower mesosphere, including a stratopause, as well as satisfactory superrotation. The latter is shown to depend on the dynamical core’s ability to build up angular momentum from surface torques. Simulated latitudinal temperature contrasts are adequate, compared to observations, and polar temperature anomalies agree with observations. In the lower atmosphere, the insolation distribution is shown to strongly impact turbulent fluxes, and surface heating is maximum at mid-latitudes. Surface liquids are unstable at mid- and low-latitudes, and quickly migrate poleward. The simulated humidity profile and distribution of surface temperatures, compared to observations, corroborate the prevalence of dry conditions at low latitudes. Polar cloud activity is well represented, though the observed mid-latitude clouds remain somewhat puzzling, and some formation alternatives are suggested.

Evolution of H2O, CO, and CO2 production in Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd during the 2011–2012 apparition

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Adam J. McKay , Anita L. Cochran , Michael A. DiSanti , Geronimo Villanueva , Neil Dello Russo , Ronald J. Vervack Jr. , Jeffrey P. Morgenthaler , Walter M. Harris , Nancy J. Chanover

We present analysis of high spectral resolution NIR spectra of CO and H2O in Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) taken during its 2011–2012 apparition with the CSHELL instrument on NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). We also present analysis of observations of atomic oxygen in Comet Garradd obtained with the ARCES echelle spectrometer mounted on the ARC 3.5-m telescope at Apache Point Observatory and the Tull Coude spectrograph on the Harlan J. Smith 2.7-m telescope at McDonald Observatory. The observations of atomic oxygen serve as a proxy for H2O and CO2. We confirm the high CO abundance in Comet Garradd and the asymmetry in the CO/H2O ratio with respect to perihelion reported by previous studies. From the oxygen observations, we infer that the CO2/H2O ratio decreased as the comet moved towards the Sun, which is expected based on current sublimation models. We also infer that the CO2/H2O ratio was higher pre-perihelion than post-perihelion. We observe evidence for the icy grain source of H2O reported by several studies pre-perihelion, and argue that this source is significantly less abundant post-perihelion. Since H2O, CO2, and CO are the primary ices in comets, they drive the activity. We use our measurements of these important volatiles in an attempt to explain the evolution of Garradd’s activity over the apparition.

Updated taxonomy of trans-neptunian objects and centaurs: Influence of albedo

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Irina N. Belskaya , Maria A. Barucci , Marcello Fulchignoni , Anatolij N. Dovgopol

We present updated classification of 258 trans-neptunian objects (TNOs) and centaurs based on their visible and near-infrared colors. With increasing quality and quantity of color measurements we distinguished again four classes of objects confirming the previous classification into the BB, BR, IR, and RR taxonomic groups. Increasing accuracy of color measurements results in smaller scatter on color–color plots and better separation of classes. Albedos do not have any noticeable impact on the classification except for the separation of a sub-group of the brightest bodies inside the BB group. On the other side, all the BR objects for which albedo estimations are available have dark surfaces, while the IR and RR groups contain objects both with dark and moderate albedos. Analysis of the distribution of the groups with respect to their orbital parameters confirmed previous findings. The BB and RR groups are populated mainly with classical objects having generally high or low orbital inclinations, respectively. Any centaur belongs to the IR group and only one centaur is classified as BB: this is a confirmation of the existence of two separate classes in this population.

Photochemical escape of oxygen from early Mars

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Jinjin Zhao , Feng Tian

Photochemical escape is an important process for oxygen escape from present Mars. In this work, a 1-D Monte-Carlo Model is developed to calculate escape rates of energetic oxygen atoms produced from O2 + dissociative recombination reactions (DR) under 1, 3, 10, and 20 times present solar XUV fluxes. We found that although the overall DR rates increase with solar XUV flux almost linearly, oxygen escape rate increases from 1× to 10× present solar XUV conditions but decreases when increasing solar XUV flux further. Analysis shows that atomic species in the upper thermosphere of early Mars increases more rapidly than O2 + when increasing XUV fluxes. While the latter is the source of energetic O atoms, the former increases the collision probability and thus decreases the escape probability of energetic O. Our results suggest that photochemical escape be a less important escape mechanism than previously thought for the loss of water and/or CO2 from early Mars.

The relative timing of Lunar Magma Ocean solidification and the Late Heavy Bombardment inferred from highly degraded impact basin structures

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): Shunichi Kamata , Seiji Sugita , Yutaka Abe , Yoshiaki Ishihara , Yuji Harada , Tomokatsu Morota , Noriyuki Namiki , Takahiro Iwata , Hideo Hanada , Hiroshi Araki , Koji Matsumoto , Eiichi Tajika , Kiyoshi Kuramoto , Francis Nimmo

The solidification of the Lunar Magma Ocean (LMO) and formation of impact basins are important events that took place on the early Moon. The relative timing of these events, however, is poorly constrained. The aim of this study is to constrain the formation ages of old impact basins based on inferences of their thermal state. Most proposed basins formed before Pre-Nectarian (PN) 5 stage do not exhibit clear concentric features in either topography or gravity, suggesting substantial viscous lateral flow in the crust. Recent geodetic measurements reveal that the lunar crust is thinner than previously estimated, indicating that an extremely high crustal temperature is required for lateral flow to occur. In this study, we calculate lunar thermal evolution and viscoelastic deformation of basins and investigate the thermal state at the time of basin formation using recent crustal thickness models. We find that a Moho temperature >1300–1400K at the time of basin formation is required for substantial viscous relaxation of topography to occur; the implied elastic thickness at the time of loading is <30km. Such a high temperature can be maintained only for a short time (i.e., <50Myr for most conditions) after solidification of the LMO or after mantle overturn if it took place; relaxed impact basins forming ⩾150 Myr later than LMO solidification are unlikely. This result is in conflict with an intensive Late Heavy Bombardment (LHB) model, which assumes that most impact basins were formed at ∼3.9Ga, since it requires LMO solidification time much later than previous theoretical estimates. Either the LHB was moderate, or the majority of proposed early PN basins were not in fact formed by impacts.

Reanalysis of Uranus’ cloud scattering properties from IRTF/SpeX observations using a self-consistent scattering cloud retrieval scheme

Publication date: April 2015 Source:Icarus, Volume 250

Author(s): P.G.J. Irwin , D.S. Tice , L.N. Fletcher , J.K. Barstow , N.A. Teanby , G.S. Orton , G.R. Davis

We have developed a new retrieval approach to modelling near-infrared spectra of Uranus that represents a significant improvement over previous modelling methods. We reanalysed IRTF/SpeX observations of Uranus observed in 2009 covering the wavelength range 0.8–1.8μm and reported by Tice et al. (Tice, D.S., Irwin, P.G.J., Fletcher, L.N., Teanby, N.A., Hurley, J., Orton, G.S., Davis, G.R. [2013]. Icarus 223, 684–698). By retrieving the imaginary refractive index spectra of cloud particles we are able to consistently define the real part of the refractive index spectra, through a Kramers–Kronig analysis, and thus determine self-consistent extinction cross-section, single-scattering and phase-function spectra for the clouds and hazes in Uranus’ atmosphere. We tested two different cloud-modelling schemes used in conjunction with the temperature/methane profile of Baines et al. (Baines, K.H., Mickelson, M.E., Larson, L.E., Ferguson, D.W. [1995]. Icarus 114, 328–340), a reanalysis of the Voyager-2 radio-occultation observations performed by Sromovsky, Fry and Kim (Sromovsky, L.A., Fry, P.M., Kim, J.H. [2011]. Icarus 215, 292–312), and a recent determination from Spitzer (Orton, G.S., Fletcher, L.N., Moses, J.I., Mainzer, A.K., Hines, D., Hammel, H.B., Martin-Torres, F.J., Burgdorf, M., Merlet, C., Line, M.R. [2014]. Icarus 243, 494–513). We find that both cloud-modelling schemes represent the observed centre-of-disc spectrum of Uranus well, and both require similar cloud scattering properties of the main cloud residing at ∼2bars. However, a modified version of the Sromovsky, Fry and Kim (2011) model, with revised spectral properties of the lowest cloud layer, fits slightly better at shorter wavelengths and is more consistent with the expected vertical position of Uranus’ methane cloud. We find that the bulk of the reflected radiance from Uranus arises from a thick cloud at approximately the 2bar level, composed of particles that are significantly more absorbing at wavelengths λ >1.0μm than they are at shorter wavelengths λ <1.0μm. This spectral information provides a possible constraint on the identity of the main particle type, although we find that the scattering properties required are not consistent with any of the available laboratory data for pure NH3, NH4SH, or CH4 ice (all suspected of condensing in the upper troposphere). It is possible that the observed clouds are mixtures of tropospheric condensate mixed with photochemical products diffusing down from above, which masks their pure scattering features. Because there is no available laboratory data for pure H2S or PH3 ice (both of which might be present as well), they cannot be excluded as the cloud-forming species. We note, however, that their absorptive properties would have to be two orders of magnitude greater than the other measured ices at wavelengths greater than 1μm to be consistent with our retrieval, which suggests that mixing with photochemical products may still be important.