Publications by Patrick Irwin


Seasonal evolution of temperatures in Titan's lower stratosphere

Icarus (2019)

M Sylvestre, NA Teanby, J Vatant d'Ollone, S Vinatier, B Bézard, S Lebonnois, PGJ Irwin

© 2019 Elsevier Inc. The Cassini mission offered us the opportunity to monitor the seasonal evolution of Titan's atmosphere from 2004 to 2017, i.e. half a Titan year. The lower part of the stratosphere (pressures greater than 10 mbar) is a region of particular interest as there are few available temperature measurements, and because its thermal response to the seasonal and meridional insolation variations undergone by Titan remain poorly known. In this study, we measure temperatures in Titan's lower stratosphere between 6 mbar and 25 mbar using Cassini/CIRS spectra covering the whole duration of the mission (from 2004 to 2017) and the whole latitude range. We can thus characterize the meridional distribution of temperatures in Titan's lower stratosphere, and how it evolves from northern winter (2004) to summer solstice (2017). Our measurements show that Titan's lower stratosphere undergoes significant seasonal changes, especially at the South pole, where temperature decreases by 19 K at 15 mbar in 4 years.


Seasonal Evolution of Titan's Stratosphere During the Cassini Mission

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS 46 (2019) 3079-3089

NA Teanby, M Sylvestre, J Sharkey, CA Nixon, S Vinatier, PGJ Irwin


Wave Activity in Jupiter's North Equatorial Belt From Near-Infrared Reflectivity Observations

Geophysical Research Letters 46 (2019) 1232-1241

RS Giles, GS Orton, AW Stephens, MH Wong, PGJ Irwin, JA Sinclair, F Tabataba-Vakili

©2019. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. High spatial resolution images of Jupiter at 1.58–2.28 μm are used to track and characterize a wave pattern observed in 2017 at a planetocentric latitude of 14°N. The wave pattern has a wave number of 18 and spans ∼5° in latitude. One bright crest remains stationary in System III longitude, while the remaining crests move slowly westward. The bright and dark regions of the near-infrared wave pattern are caused by variations in the vertical location of the upper tropospheric haze layer. A comparison with thermal infrared observations shows a correlation with temperature anomalies in the upper troposphere. The results are consistent with a Rossby wave, generated by flow around a stationary vortex.


Abundance measurements of Titan's stratospheric HCN, HC3N, C3H4, and CH3CN from ALMA observations

Icarus 319 (2019) 417-432

AE Thelen, CA Nixon, NJ Chanover, MA Cordiner, EM Molter, NA Teanby, PGJ Irwin, J Serigano, SB Charnley

© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Previous investigations have employed more than 100 close observations of Titan by the Cassini orbiter to elucidate connections between the production and distribution of Titan's vast, organic-rich chemical inventory and its atmospheric dynamics. However, as Titan transitions into northern summer, the lack of incoming data from the Cassini orbiter presents a potential barrier to the continued study of seasonal changes in Titan's atmosphere. In our previous work (Thelen et al., 2018), we demonstrated that the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is well suited for measurements of Titan's atmosphere in the stratosphere and lower mesosphere (∼100−500 km) through the use of spatially resolved (beam sizes < 1′′) flux calibration observations of Titan. Here, we derive vertical abundance profiles of four of Titan's trace atmospheric species from the same 3 independent spatial regions across Titan's disk during the same epoch (2012–2015): HCN, HC3N, C3H4, and CH3CN. We find that Titan's minor constituents exhibit large latitudinal variations, with enhanced abundances at high latitudes compared to equatorial measurements; this includes CH3CN, which eluded previous detection by Cassini in the stratosphere, and thus spatially resolved abundance measurements were unattainable. Even over the short 3-year period, vertical profiles and integrated emission maps of these molecules allow us to observe temporal changes in Titan's atmospheric circulation during northern spring. Our derived abundance profiles are comparable to contemporary measurements from Cassini infrared observations, and we find additional evidence for subsidence of enriched air onto Titan's south pole during this time period. Continued observations of Titan with ALMA beyond the summer solstice will enable further study of how Titan's atmospheric composition and dynamics respond to seasonal changes.


Ethane in Titan's Stratosphere from Cassini CIRS Far- and Mid-infrared Spectra

ASTRONOMICAL JOURNAL 157 (2019) ARTN 160

NA Lombardo, CA Nixon, M Sylvestre, DE Jennings, N Teanby, PJG Irwin, FM Flasar


Neptune's carbon monoxide profile and phosphine upper limits from Herschel/SPIRE (vol 319, pg 86, 2019)

ICARUS 322 (2018) 261-261

NA Teanby, PGJ Irwin, JI Moses


Corrigendum to “Neptune's carbon monoxide profile and phosphine upper limits from Herschel/SPIRE” (Icarus, vol 319, p86–98, 2019) (Icarus (2019) 319 (86–98), (S0019103518304457), (10.1016/j.icarus.2018.09.014))

Icarus 322 (2019) 261-261

NA Teanby, PGJ Irwin, JI Moses

© 2018 The authors would like to publish the below information which was incorrectly published in its original version. Page 90: The equation for saturation vapour pressure should be PSVP(T) =exp(a+b/T +cT). Page92: TheD/HratiomeasuredbyFeuchtgruberetal.(2013)fromHerschelPACSshouldbe 4.1±0.4×10−5. References Feuchtgruber, H., Lellouch, E., Orton, G., de Graauw, T., Vandenbussche, B., Swinyard, B., Moreno, R., Jarchow, C., Billebaud, F., Cavali´e, T., Sidher, S., Hartogh, P., 2013. The D/H ratio in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune from Herschel-PACS observations. Astron. Astrophys. 551, 1–9.


Jupiter's auroral-related stratospheric heating and chemistry III: Abundances of C <inf>2</inf> H <inf>4</inf> , CH <inf>3</inf> C <inf>2</inf> H, C <inf>4</inf> H <inf>2</inf> and C <inf>6</inf> H <inf>6</inf> from Voyager-IRIS and Cassini-CIRS

Icarus 328 (2019) 176-193

JA Sinclair, JI Moses, V Hue, TK Greathouse, GS Orton, LN Fletcher, PGJ Irwin

© 2019 Elsevier Inc. We present an analysis of Voyager-1-IRIS and Cassini-CIRS spectra of Jupiter's high latitudes acquired during the spacecrafts' respective flybys in November 1979 and January 2001. We performed a forward-model analysis in order to derive the abundances of ethylene (C 2 H 4 ), methylacetylene (CH 3 C 2 H), diacetylene (C 4 H 2 ) and benzene (C 6 H 6 ) in Jupiter's northern and southern auroral regions. We also compared these abundances to: 1) lower-latitude abundances predicted by the Moses et al. (2005) ‘Model A’ photochemical model, henceforth ‘Moses 2005A’, and 2) abundances derived at non-auroral longitudes in the same latitude band. This paper serves as an extension of Sinclair et al. (2017b), where we retrieved the vertical profiles of temperature, C 2 H 2 and C 2 H 6 from similar datasets. We find that an enrichment of C 2 H 4 , CH 3 C 2 H and C 6 H 6 with respect to lower-latitude abundances is required to fit the spectra of Jupiter's northern and southern auroral regions. For example, for CIRS 0.5 cm −1 spectra of Jupiter's southern auroral region, scale factor enrichments of 6.40 −1.15+1.30 and 9.60 −3.67+3.98 are required with respect to the Moses 2005A vertical profiles of C 2 H 4 and C 6 H 6 , respectively, in order to fit the spectral emission features of these species at ∼950 and ∼674 cm −1 . Similarly, in order to fit the CIRS 2.5 cm −1 spectra of Jupiter's northern auroral region, scale factor enrichments of 1.60 −0.21+0.37 , 3.40 −1.69+1.89 and 15.00 −4.02+4.01 with respect to the Moses 2005A vertical profiles of C 2 H 4 , CH 3 C 2 H and C 6 H 6 were required, respectively. Outside of Jupiter's auroral region in the same latitude bands, only upper-limit abundances of C 2 H 4 , CH 3 C 2 H and C 6 H 6 could be determined due to the limited sensitivity of the measurements, the weaker emission features combined with cooler stratospheric temperatures (and therefore decreased thermal emission) of these regions. Nevertheless, for a subset of the observations, derived abundances of C 2 H 4 and C 6 H 6 in Jupiter's auroral regions were higher (by 1 σ) with respect to upper-limit abundances derived outside the auroral region in the same latitude band. This is suggestive that the influx of energetic ions and electrons from the Jovian magnetosphere and external solar-wind environment into the neutral atmosphere in Jupiter's auroral regions drives enhanced ion-related chemistry, as has also been inferred from Cassini observations of Saturn's high latitudes (Fletcher et al., 2018; Guerlet et al., 2015; Koskinen et al., 2016). We were not able to constrain the abundance of C 4 H 2 in either Jupiter's auroral regions or non-auroral regions due to its lower (predicted) abundance and weaker emission feature. Thus, only upper-limit abundances were derived in both locations. From CIRS 2.5 cm −1 spectra, the upper limit abundance of C 4 H 2 corresponds to a scale factor enhancement of 45.6 and 23.8 with respect to the Moses 2005A vertical profile in Jupiter's non-auroral and auroral regions.


Spatial and seasonal variations in C_3/H_x hydrocarbon abundance in Titan's stratosphere from Cassini CIRS observations

Icarus 317 (2019) 454-469

NA Lombardo, CA Nixon, RK Achterberg, A Jolly, K Sung, PGJ Irwin, FM Flasar

© 2018 Of the C3Hxhydrocarbons, propane (C3H8) and propyne (methylacetylene, CH3C2H) were first detected in Titan's atmosphere during the Voyager 1 flyby in 1980. Propene (propylene, C3H6) was first detected in 2013 with data from the Composite InfraRed Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument on Cassini. We present the first measured abundance profiles of propene on Titan from radiative transfer modeling, and compare our measurements to predictions derived from several photochemical models. Near the equator, propene is observed to have a peak abundance of 10 ppbv at a pressure of 0.2 mbar. Several photochemical models predict the amount at this pressure to be in the range 0.3–1 ppbv and also show a local minimum near 0.2 mbar which we do not see in our measurements. We also see that propene follows a different latitudinal trend than the other C3molecules. While propane and propyne concentrate near the winter pole, transported via a global convective cell, propene is most abundant above the equator. We retrieve vertical abundances profiles between 125 km and 375 km for these gases for latitude averages between 60°S–20°S, 20°S–20°N, and 20°N–60°N over two time periods, 2004 through 2009 representing Titan's atmosphere before the 2009 equinox, and 2012 through 2015 representing time after the equinox. Additionally, using newly corrected line data, we determined an updated upper limit for allene (propadiene, CH2CCH2, the isomer of propyne). We claim a 3-σ upper limit mixing ratio of 2.5 × 10−9 within 30° of the equator. The measurements we present will further constrain photochemical models by refining reaction rates and the transport of these gases throughout Titan's atmosphere.


Probable detection of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) in Neptune’s atmosphere

Icarus Elsevier 321 (2018) 550-563

P Irwin, D Toledo, R Garland, N Teanby, L Fletcher, G Orton, B Bezard

Recent analysis of Gemini-North/NIFS H-band (1.45–1.8 µm) observations of Uranus, recorded in 2010, with recently updated line data has revealed the spectral signature of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) 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 H2S spectral absorption features in the 1.57–1.58 µm range, albeit slightly less evident, and retrieve a mole fraction of -1 - 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 H2S here. We find our retrieved H2S 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 µm range, some of the Empirical Orthogonal Functions (EOFs) mapped closely to physically significant quantities, with one being strongly correlated with the modelled H2S signal and clearly mapping the spatial dependence of its spectral detectability. Just as for Uranus, the detection of H2S at the cloud tops constrains the deep bulk sulphur/nitrogen abundance to exceed unity (i.e. &gt;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) x10 -5 . The detection of gaseous H2S 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 H2S ice.


Analysis of gaseous ammonia (NH3) absorption in the visible spectrum of Jupiter - Update

Icarus Elsevier 321 (2018) 572-582

P Irwin, N Bowles, A Braude, R Garland, S Calcutt, PA Coles, J Tennyson

An analysis of currently available ammonia (NH3) visible-to-near-infrared gas absorption data was recently undertaken by Irwin et al. (2018) to help interpret Very Large Telescope (VLT) MUSE observations of Jupiter from 0.48–0.93 µm, made in support of the NASA/Juno mission. Since this analysis a newly revised set of ammonia line data, covering the previously poorly constrained range 0.5–0.833 µm, has been released by the ExoMol project, “C2018” (Coles et al., 2018), which demonstrates significant advantages over previously available data sets, and provides for the first time complete line data for the previously poorly constrained 5520- and 6475-Å bands of NH3. In this paper we compare spectra calculated using the ExoMol–C2018 data set (Coles et al., 2018) with spectra calculated from previous sources to demonstrate its advantages. We conclude that at the present time the ExoMol–C2018 dataset provides the most reliable ammonia absorption source for analysing low- to medium-resolution spectra of Jupiter in the visible/near-IR spectral range, but note that the data are less able to model high-resolution spectra owing to small, but significant inaccuracies in the line wavenumber estimates. This work is of significance not only for solar system planetary physics, but for future proposed observations of Jupiter-like planets orbiting other stars, such as with NASA’s planned Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).


Neptune’s carbon monoxide profile and phosphine upper limits from Herschel/SPIRE: Implications for interior structure and formation

Icarus Elsevier 319 (2018) 86-98

NA Teanby, PGJ Irwin, JI Moses

On Neptune, carbon monoxide and phosphine are disequilibrium species, and their abundance profiles can provide insights into interior processes and the external space environment. Here we use Herschel/SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver) observations from 14.9–51.5 cm-1 to obtain abundances from multiple CO and PH3 spectral features. For CO, we find that nine CO bands can be simultaneously fitted using a step profile with a 0.22 ppm tropospheric abundance, a 1.03 ppm stratospheric abundance, and a step transition pressure of 0.11 bar near the tropopause. This is in broad agreement with previous studies. However, we also find that the CO spectral features could be fitted, to well within measurement errors, with a profile that contains no tropospheric CO for pressure levels deeper than 0.5 bar, which is our preferred interpretation. This differs from previous studies that have assumed CO is well mixed throughout the troposphere, which would require an internal CO source to explain and a high O/H enrichment. Our interpretation removes the requirement for extreme interior O/H enrichment in thermochemical models and can finally reconcile D/H and CO measurements. If true, the lack of lower tropospheric CO would imply a decrease in Neptune’s interior water content, favouring a silicate-rich instead of an ice-rich interior. This would be consistent with a protoplanetary ice source with a similar D/H ratio to the current solar system comet population. The upper tropospheric and stratospheric CO at pressures less than 0.5 bar could then be entirely externally sourced from a giant impact as suggested by Lellouch et al.(2005). We also derive a 3-σ upper limit for PH3 of 1.1 ppb at 0.4–0.8 bar. This is the most stringent upper limit to-date and is entirely consistent with predictions from a simple photochemical model.


Assessing the long-term variability of acetylene and ethane in the stratosphere of Jupiter

ICARUS 305 (2018) 301-313

H Melin, LN Fletcher, PT Donnelly, TK Greathouse, JH Lacy, GS Orton, RS Giles, JA Sinclair, PGJ Irwin


The origin of Titan's external oxygen: further constraints from ALMA upper limits on CS and CH2NH

Astronomical Journal American Astronomical Society 155 (2018) 251

N Teanby, M Cordiner, C Nixon, P Irwin, S Horst, M Sylvestre, J Serigano, AE Thelen, AMS Richards, SB Charnley

Titan's atmospheric inventory of oxygen compounds (H2O, CO2, CO) are thought to result from photochemistry acting on externally supplied oxygen species (O+, OH, H2O). These species potentially originate from two main sources: (1) cryogenic plumes from the active moon Enceladus and (2) micrometeoroid ablation. Enceladus is already suspected to be the major O+ source, which is required for CO creation. However, photochemical models also require H2O and OH influx to reproduce observed quantities of CO2 and H2O. Here, we exploit sulphur as a tracer to investigate the oxygen source because it has very different relative abundances in micrometeorites (S/O ~ 10−2) and Enceladus' plumes (S/O ~ 10−5). Photochemical models predict most sulphur is converted to CS in the upper atmosphere, so we use Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations at ~340 GHz to search for CS emission. We determined stringent CS 3σ stratospheric upper limits of 0.0074 ppb (uniform above 100 km) and 0.0256 ppb (uniform above 200 km). These upper limits are not quite stringent enough to distinguish between Enceladus and micrometeorite sources at the 3σ level and a contribution from micrometeorites cannot be ruled out, especially if external flux is toward the lower end of current estimates. Only the high-flux micrometeorite source model of Hickson et al. can be rejected at 3σ. We determined a 3σ stratospheric upper limit for CH2NH of 0.35 ppb, which suggests cosmic rays may have a smaller influence in the lower stratosphere than predicted by some photochemical models. Disk-averaged C3H4 and C2H5CN profiles were determined and are consistent with previous ALMA and Cassini/CIRS measurements.


Retrieval of H<inf>2</inf>O abundance in Titan's stratosphere: A (re)analysis of CIRS/Cassini and PACS/Herschel observations

Icarus 311 (2018) 288-305

S Bauduin, PGJ Irwin, E Lellouch, V Cottini, R Moreno, CA Nixon, NA Teanby, T Ansty, FM Flasar

© 2018 Elsevier Inc. Since its first measurement 20 years ago by the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO), the water (H 2 O) mole fraction in Titan's stratosphere remains uncertain due to large differences between the determinations from available measurements. More particularly, the recent measurements made from the Herschel observatory (PACS and HIFI) estimated the H 2 O mole fraction to be 0.023 ppb at 12.1 mbar. A mixing ratio of 0.14 ppb at 10.7 mbar was, however, retrieved from nadir spatially-resolved observations of Cassini/CIRS. At the same pressure level (10.7 mbar), this makes a difference of a factor of 5.5 between PACS and CIRS measurements, and this has notably prevented current models from fully constraining the oxygen flux flowing into Titan's atmosphere. In this work, we try to understand the differences between the H 2 O mole fractions estimated from Herschel/PACS and Cassini/CIRS observations. The strategy for this is to 1) analyse recent disc-averaged observations of CIRS to investigate if the observation geometry could explain the previous observed differences, and 2) (re)analyse the three types of observation with the same retrieval scheme to assess if previous differences in retrieval codes/methodology could be responsible for the previous discrepancies. With this analysis, we show that using the same retrieval method better reconcile the previous measurements of these instruments. However, the addition of the disc-averaged CIRS observations, instead of confirming the consistency between the different datasets, reveals discrepancies between one of the CIRS disc-averaged set of observations and PACS measurements. This raises new questions regarding the possibility of latitudinal variations of H 2 O, which could be triggered by seasonal changes of the meridional circulation. As it has already been shown for nitriles and hydrocarbons, this circulation could potentially impact the latitudinal distribution of H 2 O through the subsidence or upwelling of air rich in H 2 O. The possible influence of spatial/time variations of the OH/H 2 O input flux in Titan's atmosphere is also discussed. The analysis of more observations will be needed in future work to address the questions arising from this work and to improve the understanding of the sources of H 2 O in Titan's atmosphere.


Detection of hydrogen sulfide above the clouds in Uranus’s atmosphere

Nature Astronomy Nature Publishing Group 2 (2018) 420-427

P Irwin, D Toledo Carrasco, R Garland, N Teanby, L Fletcher, GS Orton, B Bezard

Visible-to-near-infrared observations indicate that the cloud top of the main cloud deck on Uranus lies at a pressure level of between 1.2 bar and 3 bar. However, its composition has never been unambiguously identified, although it is widely assumed to be composed primarily of either ammonia or hydrogen sulfide (H2S) ice. Here, we present evidence of a clear detection of gaseous H2S above this cloud deck in the wavelength region 1.57–1.59 μm with a mole fraction of 0.4–0.8 ppm at the cloud top. Its detection constrains the deep bulk sulfur/nitrogen abundance to exceed unity (&gt;4.4–5.0 times the solar value) in Uranus’s bulk atmosphere, and places a lower limit on the mole fraction of H2S below the observed cloud of (1.0−2.5)×10−5. The detection of gaseous H2S at these pressure levels adds to the weight of evidence that the principal constituent of 1.2–3-bar cloud is likely to be H2S ice.


A chemical survey of exoplanets with ARIEL

Experimental Astronomy Springer 46 (2018) 135–209-

G Tinetti, P Drossart, P Eccleston, P Hartogh, A Heske, J Leconte, G Micela, M Ollivier, P Eccleston, G Pilbratt, L Puig, D Turrini, N Bowles

Thousands of exoplanets have now been discovered with a huge range of masses, sizes and orbits: from rocky Earth-like planets to large gas giants grazing the surface of their host star. However, the essential nature of these exoplanets remains largely mysterious: there is no known, discernible pattern linking the presence, size, or orbital parameters of a planet to the nature of its parent star. We have little idea whether the chemistry of a planet is linked to its formation environment, or whether the type of host star drives the physics and chemistry of the planet’s birth, and evolution. The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) has been selected by the European Space Agency as the next mediumclass science mission, M4, to address these scientific questions. ARIEL was conceived to observe a large number (~1000) of transiting planets for statistical understanding, including gas giants, Neptunes, super-Earths and Earth-size planets around a range of host star types using transit spectroscopy in the 1.25-7.8 μm spectral range and multiple narrow-band photometry in the optical. ARIEL will focus on warm and hot planets to take advantage of their well-mixed atmospheres which should show minimal condensation and sequestration of high-Z materials compared to their colder Solar System siblings. Said warm and hot atmospheres are expected to be more representative of the planetary bulk composition. Observations of these warm/hot exoplanets, and in particular of their elemental composition (especially C, O, N, S, Si), will allow the understanding of the early stages of planetary and atmospheric formation during the nebular phase and the following few million years. ARIEL will thus provide a representative picture of the chemical nature of the exoplanets and relate this directly to the type and chemical environment of the host star. ARIEL is designed as a dedicated survey mission for combined-light spectroscopy, capable of observing a large and well-defined planet sample within its 4-year mission lifetime. Transit, eclipse and phase-curve spectroscopy methods, whereby the signal from the star and planet are differentiated using knowledge of the planetary ephemerides, allow us to measure atmospheric signals from the planet at levels of 10-100 part per million (ppm) relative to the star and, given the bright nature of targets, also allows more sophisticated techniques, such as eclipse mapping, to give a deeper insight into the nature of the atmosphere. These types of observations require a stable payload and satellite platform with broad, instantaneous wavelength coverage to detect many molecular species, probe the thermal structure, identify clouds and monitor the stellar activity. The wavelength range proposed covers all the expected major atmospheric gases from e.g. H2O, CO2, CH4 NH3, HCN, H2S through to the more exotic metallic compounds, such as TiO, VO, and condensed species. Simulations of ARIEL performance in conducting exoplanet surveys have been performed – using conservative estimates of mission performance and a full model of all significant noise sources in the measurement – using a list of potential ARIEL targets that incorporates the latest available exoplanet statistics. The conclusion at the end of the Phase A study, is that ARIEL – in line with the stated mission objectives – will be able to observe about 1000 exoplanets depending on the details of the adopted survey strategy, thus confirming the feasibility of the main science objectives.


A hexagon in Saturn’s northern stratosphere surrounding the emerging summertime polar vortex

Nature Communications Springer Nature 9 (2018) 3564

LN Fletcher, GS Orton, JA Sinclair, S Guerlet, PL Read, A Antunano, RK Achterberg, FM Flasar, P Irwin, GL Bjoraker, J Hurley, BE Hesman, M Segura, N Gorius, A Mamoutkine, SB Calcutt

Saturn’s polar stratosphere exhibits the seasonal growth and dissipation of broad, warm vortices poleward of ~75° latitude, which are strongest in the summer and absent in winter. The longevity of the exploration of the Saturn system by Cassini allows the use of infrared spectroscopy to trace the formation of the North Polar Stratospheric Vortex (NPSV), a region of enhanced temperatures and elevated hydrocarbon abundances at millibar pressures. We constrain the timescales of stratospheric vortex formation and dissipation in both hemispheres. Although the NPSV formed during late northern spring, by the end of Cassini’s reconnaissance (shortly after northern summer solstice), it still did not display the contrasts in temperature and composition that were evident at the south pole during southern summer. The newly formed NPSV was bounded by a strengthening stratospheric thermal gradient near 78°N. The emergent boundary was hexagonal, suggesting that the Rossby wave responsible for Saturn’s long-lived polar hexagon—which was previously expected to be trapped in the troposphere—can influence the stratospheric temperatures some 300 km above Saturn’s clouds.


Detectability of biosignatures in anoxic atmospheres with the James Webb Space Telescope: a TRAPPIST-1e case study

Astronomical Journal American Astronomical Society 156 (2018) 114

J Krissansen-Totton, R Garland, P Irwin, D Catling

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may be capable of finding biogenic gases in the atmospheres of habitable exoplanets around low-mass stars. Considerable attention has been given to the detectability of biogenic oxygen, which could be found using an ozone proxy, but ozone detection with JWST will be extremely challenging, even for the most favorable targets. Here, we investigate the detectability of biosignatures in anoxic atmospheres analogous to those that likely existed on the early Earth. Arguably, such anoxic biosignatures could be more prevalent than oxygen biosignatures if life exists elsewhere. Specifically, we simulate JWST retrievals of TRAPPIST-1e to determine whether the methane plus carbon dioxide disequilibrium biosignature pair is detectable in transit transmission. We find that ~10 transits using the Near InfraRed Spectrograph prism instrument may be sufficient to detect carbon dioxide and constrain methane abundances sufficiently well to rule out known, nonbiological CH4 production scenarios to ~90% confidence. Furthermore, it might be possible to put an upper limit on carbon monoxide abundances that would help rule out nonbiological methane-production scenarios, assuming the surface biosphere would efficiently draw down atmospheric CO. Our results are relatively insensitive to high-altitude clouds and instrument noise floor assumptions, although stellar heterogeneity and variability may present challenges.


Uranus's northern polar cap in 2014

Geophysical Research Letters Wiley (2018)

D Toledo Carrasco, PGJ Irwin, NA Teanby, AA Simon, MH Wong, GS Orton

In October and November 2014, spectra covering the 1.436 – 1.863-μm wavelength range from the SINFONI Integral Field Unit Spectrometer on the Very Large Telescope showed the presence of a vast bright North polar cap on Uranus, extending northward from about 40ºN and at all longitudes observed. The feature, first detected in August 2014 from Keck telescope images, has a morphology very similar to the southern polar cap that was seen to fade before the 2007 equinox. At strong methane-absorbing wavelengths (for which only the high troposphere or stratosphere is sampled) the feature is not visible, indicating that it is not a stratospheric phenomenon. We show that the observed northern bright polar cap results mainly from a decrease in the tropospheric methane mixing ratio, rather than from a possible latitudinal variation of the optical properties or abundance of aerosol, implying an increase in polar downwelling near the tropopause level.

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