THE ROLE OF NITROGEN IN TITAN'S UPPER ATMOSPHERIC HYDROCARBON CHEMISTRY OVER THE SOLAR CYCLE
Luspay-Kuti et al
Titan's thermospheric photochemistry is primarily driven by solar radiation. Similarly to other planetary atmospheres, such as Mars', Titan's atmospheric structure is also directly affected by variations in the solar extreme-UV/UV output in response to the 11-year-long solar cycle. Here, we investigate the influence of nitrogen on the vertical production, loss, and abundance profiles of hydrocarbons as a function of the solar cycle. Our results show that changes in the atmospheric nitrogen atomic density (primarily in its ground state N(4S)) as a result of photon flux variations have important implications for the production of several minor hydrocarbons. The solar minimum enhancement of CH3, C2H6, and C3H8, despite the lower CH4 photodissociation rates compared with solar maximum conditions, is explained by the role of N(4S). N(4S) indirectly controls the altitude of termolecular versus bimolecular chemical regimes through its relationship with CH3. When in higher abundance during solar maximum at lower altitudes, N(4S) increases the importance of bimolecular CH3 + N(4S) reactions producing HCN and H2CN. The subsequent remarkable CH3 loss and decrease in the CH3 abundance at lower altitudes during solar maximum affects the overall hydrocarbon chemistry.