DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 10. Titan I
Oral, Chairs: C. A. Griffith and D. B. Curtis, Wednesday, September 3, 2003, 10:30am-12:00noon, DeAnza I-II

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[10.05] Laboratory studies of methane nucleation on ethane: Application to Titan's clouds

D. B. Curtis, OB Toon, M.A. Tolbert (University of Colorado), C.P. McKay, B.N. Khare (NASA Ames Research Center)

Titanís unusually thick atmosphere is composed mainly of nitrogen with a few percent methane and several gas phase species. The most abundant of these gas phase species is ethane, thought to be present at amounts of approximately 20 parts per million, while HCN, ethylene, propane, and many other species are also produced. Complex photochemistry in Titanís upper atmosphere produces a solid haze, which is thought to settle towards the surface. As the haze particles settle, it is likely that they become coated with ethane in Titanís lower stratosphere. Near Titanís tropopause, methane is saturated with respect to nucleation and could condense to form clouds. However, reanalysis of the Voyager I and II data suggests that the methane does not condense, but becomes supersaturated up to a saturation ratio of 1.5. In contrast, recent Earth-based observations indicate that methane clouds are indeed present in Titanís atmosphere. In order to elucidate Titanís cloud formation mechanism, we have made laboratory measurements of methane nucleation onto a film of solid ethane at approximately 45 K using a vacuum chamber apparatus. We find that a saturation ratio of S = 1.10 is required for methane to nucleate onto ethane, indicating that cloud formation onto coated haze particles is relatively easy and that large areas of supersaturation are not likely. Ongoing studies will measure the saturation ratio required for methane nucleation onto laboratory-produced model haze particles and films of various hydrocarbons and nitriles. This work was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute. DBC was supported by a NASA GSRP Fellowship through NASA Ames Research Center.


The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: daniel.curtis@colorado.edu

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.