Advances in space research : the official journal of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)

Corona discharge of Titan's troposphere.

PMID 11541341


The atmosphere of Titan is constantly bombarded by galactic cosmic rays and Saturnian magnetospheric electrons causing the formation of free electrons and primary ions, which are then stabilized by ion cluster formation and charging of aerosols. These charged particles accumulate in drops in cloud regions of the troposphere. Their abundance can substantially increase by friction, fragmentation or collisions during convective activity. Charge separation occurs with help of convection and gravitational settling leading to development of electric fields within the cloud and between the cloud and the ground. Neutralization of these charge particles leads to corona discharges which are characterized by low current densities. These electric discharges could induce a number of chemical reactions in the troposphere and hence it is of interest to explore such effects. We have therefore, experimentally studied the corona discharge of a simulated Titan's atmosphere (10% methane and 2% argon in nitrogen) at 500 Torr and 298 K by GC-FTIR-MS techniques. The main products have been identified as hydrocarbons (ethane, ethyne, ethene, propane, propene + propyne, cyclopropane, butane, 2-methylpropane, 2-methylpropene, n-butene, 2-butene, 2,2-dimethylpropane, 2-methylbutane, 2-methylbutene, n-pentane, 2,2-dimethylbutane, 2-methylpentane, 3-methylpentane, n-hexane, 2,2-dimethylhexane, 2,2-dimethylpentane, 2,2,3-trimethylbutane, 2,3-dimethylpentane and n-heptane), nitriles (hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen, ethanenitrile, propanenitrile, 2-methylpropanenitrile and butanenitrile) and an uncharacterized film deposit. We present their trends of formation as a function of discharge time in an ample interval and have derived their initial yields of formation. These results clearly demonstrate that a complex organic chemistry can be initiated by corona processes in the lower atmosphere. Although photochemistry and charged particle chemistry occurring in the stratosphere can account for many of the observed hydrocarbon species in Titan, the predicted abundance of ethene is to low by a factor of 10 to 40. While some ethene will be produced by charged-particle chemistry, its production by corona processes and subsequent diffusion into the stratosphere appears to be an adequate source. Because little UV penetrates to the lower atmosphere to destroy the molecules formed there, the corona-produced species may be long-lived and contribute significantly to the composition of the lower atmosphere and surface.

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