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Probable detection of hydrogen sulphide (H$_2$S) in Neptune's atmosphere

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posted on 2019-02-22, 13:33 authored by PGJ Irwin, D Toledo, R Garland, NA Teanby, LN Fletcher, GS Orton, B Bézard
Recent analysis of Gemini-North/NIFS H-band (1.45 - 1.8 $\mu$m) observations of Uranus, recorded in 2010, with recently updated line data has revealed the spectral signature of hydrogen sulphide (H$_2$S) in Uranus's atmosphere (Irwin et al., 2018). Here, we extend this analysis to Gemini-North/NIFS observations of Neptune recorded in 2009 and find a similar detection of H$_2$S spectral absorption features in the 1.57 - 1.58 $\mu$m range, albeit slightly less evident, and retrieve a mole fraction of $\sim1-3$ ppm at the cloud tops. We find a much clearer detection (and much higher retrieved column abundance above the clouds) at southern polar latitudes compared with equatorial latitudes, which suggests a higher relative humidity of H$_2$S here. We find our retrieved H$_2$S abundances are most consistent with atmospheric models that have reduced methane abundance near Neptune's south pole, consistent with HST/STIS determinations (Karkoschka and Tomasko, 2011). We also conducted a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the Neptune and Uranus data and found that in the 1.57 - 1.60 $\mu$m range, some of the Empirical Orthogonal Functions (EOFs) mapped closely to physically significant quantities, with one being strongly correlated with the modelled H$_2$S signal and clearly mapping the spatial dependence of its spectral detectability. Just as for Uranus, the detection of H$_2$S at the cloud tops constrains the deep bulk sulphur/nitrogen abundance to exceed unity (i.e. $ > 4.4 - 5.0$ times the solar value) in Neptune's bulk atmosphere, provided that ammonia is not sequestered at great depths, and places a lower limit on its mole fraction below the observed cloud of (0.4 - 1.3) $\times 10^{-5}$. The detection of gaseous H$_2$S at these pressure levels adds to the weight of evidence that the principal constituent of the 2.5 - 3.5-bar cloud is likely to be H$_2$S ice.


United Kingdom Science and Technology Facilities Council



Icarus, 2019, 321, pp. 550-563

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/Department of Physics and Astronomy


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Elsevier for Academic Press



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