Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A new astrobiological model of the atmosphere of Titan


Willacy et al


We present results of an investigation into the formation of nitrogen-bearing molecules in the atmosphere of Titan. We extend a previous model (Li et al. 2015, 2016) to cover the region below the tropopause, so the new model treats the atmosphere from Titan's surface to an altitude of 1500 km. We consider the effects of condensation and sublimation using a continuous, numerically stable method. This is coupled with parameterized treatments of the sedimentation of the aerosols and their condensates, and the formation of haze particles. These processes affect the abundances of heavier species such as the nitrogen-bearing molecules, but have less effect on the abundances of lighter molecules. Removal of molecules to form aerosols also plays a role in determining the mixing ratios, in particular of HNC, HC3N and HCN. We find good agreement with the recently detected mixing ratios of C2H5CN, with condensation playing an important role in determining the abundance of this molecule below 500 km. Of particular interest is the chemistry of acrylonitrile (C2H3CN) which has been suggested by Stevenson et al. (2015) as a molecule that could form biological membranes in an oxygen-deficient environment. With the inclusion of haze formation we find good agreement of our model predictions of acrylonitrile with the available observations.

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