University of Leicester
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The origin of nitrogen on Jupiter and Saturn from the N-15/N-14 ratio

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posted on 2019-02-15, 10:34 authored by LN Fletcher, TK Greathouse, GS Orton, PGJ Irwin, O Mousis, JA Sinclair, RS Giles
The Texas Echelon cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES), mounted on NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), was used to map mid-infrared ammonia absorption features on both Jupiter and Saturn in February 2013. Ammonia is the principle reservoir of nitrogen on the giant planets, and the ratio of isotopologues (15N/14N) can reveal insights into the molecular carrier (e.g., as N2 or NH3) of nitrogen to the forming protoplanets, and hence the source reservoirs from which these worlds accreted. We targeted two spectral intervals (900 and 960 cm1) that were relatively clear of terrestrial atmospheric contamination and contained close features of 14NH3 and 15NH3, allowing us to derive the ratio from a single spectrum without ambiguity due to radiometric calibration (the primary source of uncertainty in this study). We present the first ground-based determination of Jupiter’s 15N/14N ratio (in the range from 1:4 103 to 2:5 103), which is consistent with both previous space-based studies and with the primordial value of the protosolar nebula. On Saturn, we present the first upper limit on the 15N/14N ratio of no larger than 2:0 103 for the 900-cm1 channel and a less stringent requirement that the ratio be no larger than 2:8 103 for the 960-cm1 channel (1r confidence). Specifically, the data rule out strong 15N-enrichments such as those observed in Titan’s atmosphere and in cometary nitrogen compounds. To the extent possible with ground-based radiometric uncertainties, the saturnian and jovian 15N/14N ratios appear indistinguishable, implying that 15N-enriched ammonia ices could not have been a substantial contributor to the bulk nitrogen inventory of either planet. This result favours accretion of primordial N2 on both planets, either in the gas phase from the solar nebula, or as ices formed at very low temperatures. Finally, spatially-resolved TEXES observations are used to derive zonal contrasts in tropospheric temperatures, phosphine and 14NH3 on both planets, allowing us to relate thermal conditions and chemical compositions to phenomena observed at visible wavelengths in 2013 (e.g., Jupiter’s faint equatorial red colouration event and wave activity in the equatorial belts, plus the remnant warm band on Saturn following the 2010–11 springtime storm).


Fletcher was supported by a Royal Society Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford. Fletcher, Greathouse and Orton were visiting astronomers at the Infrared Telescope Facility, which is operated by the University of Hawaii under Cooperative Agreement No. NNX-08AE38A with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Science Mission Directorate, Planetary Astronomy Program. The UK authors acknowledge the support of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Mousis acknowledges support from CNES. A portion of this work was performed by Orton at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA.



ICARUS, 2014, 238, pp. 170-190 (21)

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


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