Publications


Latitudinal variation of methane mole fraction above clouds in Neptune's atmosphere from VLT/MUSE-NFM: limb-darkening reanalysis

Icarus Elsevier 357 (2020) 114277

PGJ Irwin, J Dobinson, A James, D Toledo, NA Teanby, LN Fletcher, GS Orton, S Pérez-Hoyos

We present a reanalysis of visible/near-infrared (480–930 nm) observations of Neptune, made in 2018 with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Narrow Field Adaptive Optics mode, reported by Irwin et al., Icarus, 311, 2019. We find that the inferred variation of methane abundance with latitude in our previous analysis, which was based on central meridian observations only, underestimated the retrieval errors when compared with a more complete assessment of Neptune's limb darkening. In addition, our previous analysis introduced spurious latitudinal variability of both the abundance and its uncertainty, which we reassess here. Our reanalysis of these data incorporates the effects of limb-darkening based upon the Minnaert approximation model, which provides a much stronger constraint on the cloud structure and methane mole fraction, makes better use of the available data and is also more computationally efficient. We find that away from discrete cloud features, the observed reflectivity spectrum from 800 to 900 nm is very well approximated by a background cloud model that is latitudinally varying, but zonally symmetric, consisting of a H2S cloud layer, based at 3.6–4.7 bar with variable opacity and scale height, and a stratospheric haze. The background cloud model matches the observed limb darkening seen at all wavelengths and latitudes and we find that the mole fraction of methane at 2–4 bar, above the H2S cloud, but below the methane condensation level, varies from 4–---6% at the equator to 2–4% at south polar latitudes, consistent with previous analyses, with a equator/pole ratio of 1.9 ± 0.2 for our assumed cloud/methane vertical distribution model. The spectra of discrete cloudy regions are fitted, to a very good approximation, by the addition of a single vertically thin methane ice cloud with opacity ranging from 0 to 0.75 and pressure less than ~0.4 bar.


Atmospheric circulation of brown dwarfs and directly imaged exoplanets driven by cloud radiative feedback: global and equatorial dynamics

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press (2021)

X Tan, AP Showman

Brown dwarfs, planetary-mass objects and directly imaged giant planets exhibit significant observational evidence for active atmospheric circulation, raising critical questions about mechanisms driving the circulation, its fundamental nature and time variability. Our previous work has demonstrated the crucial role of cloud radiative feedback on driving a vigorous atmospheric circulation using local models that assume a Cartesian geometry and constant Coriolis parameters. In this study, we extend the models to a global geometry and explore properties of the global dynamics. We show that, under relatively strong dissipation in the bottom layers of the model, horizontally isotropic vortices are prevalent at mid-to-high latitudes while large-scale zonally propagating waves are dominant at low latitudes near the observable layers. The equatorial waves have both eastward and westward phase speeds, and the eastward components with typical velocities of a few hundred  m s−1 usually dominate the equatorial time variability. Lightcurves of the global simulations show variability with amplitudes from 0.5 percent to a few percent depending on the rotation period and viewing angle. The time evolution of simulated lightcurves is critically affected by the equatorial waves, showing wave beating effects and differences in the lightcurve periodicity to the intrinsic rotation period. The vertical extent of clouds is the largest at the equator and decreases poleward due to the increasing influence of rotation with increasing latitude. Under weaker dissipation in the bottom layers, strong and broad zonal jets develop and modify wave propagation and lightcurve variability. Our modeling results help to qualitatively explain several features of observations of brown dwarfs and directly imaged giant planets, including puzzling time evolution of lightcurves, a slightly shorter period of variability in IR than in radio wavelengths, and the viewing angle dependence of variability amplitude and IR colors.


The vertical structure of CO in the Martian atmosphere from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

NATURE GEOSCIENCE (2021)

KS Olsen, F Lefevre, F Montmessin, AA Fedorova, A Trokhimovskiy, L Baggio, O Korablev, J Alday, CF Wilson, F Forget, DA Belyaev, A Patrakeev, AV Grigoriev, A Shakun


Vertically resolved magma ocean–protoatmosphere evolution: H2 , H2O, CO2, CH4, CO, O2, and N2 as primary absorbers

Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets American Geophysical Union (2021)

T Lichtenberg, DJ Bower, M Hammond, R Boukrouche, P Sanan, S Tsai, RT Pierrehumbert

The earliest atmospheres of rocky planets originate from extensive volatile release during magma ocean epochs that occur during assembly of the planet. These establish the initial distribution of the major volatile elements between different chemical reservoirs that subsequently evolve via geological cycles. Current theoretical techniques are limited in exploring the anticipated range of compositional and thermal scenarios of early planetary evolution, even though these are of prime importance to aid astronomical inferences on the environmental context and geological history of extrasolar planets. Here, we present a coupled numerical framework that links an evolutionary, vertically‐resolved model of the planetary silicate mantle with a radiative‐convective model of the atmosphere. Using this method we investigate the early evolution of idealized Earth‐sized rocky planets with end‐member, clear‐sky atmospheres dominated by either H2, H2O, CO2, CH4, CO, O2, or N2. We find central metrics of early planetary evolution, such as energy gradient, sequence of mantle solidification, surface pressure, or vertical stratification of the atmosphere, to be intimately controlled by the dominant volatile and outgassing history of the planet. Thermal sequences fall into three general classes with increasing cooling timescale: CO, N2, and O2 with minimal effect, H2O, CO2, and CH4 with intermediate influence, and H2 with several orders of magnitude increase in solidification time and atmosphere vertical stratification. Our numerical experiments exemplify the capabilities of the presented modeling framework and link the interior and atmospheric evolution of rocky exoplanets with multi‐wavelength astronomical observations.


Atmospheric circulation of brown dwarfs and directly imaged exoplanets driven by cloud radiative feedback: effects of rotation

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Oxford University Press 502 (2021) 678-699

X Tan, AP Showman

Observations of brown dwarfs (BDs), free-floating planetary-mass objects, and directly imaged extrasolar giant planets (EGPs) exhibit rich evidence of large-scale weather. Cloud radiative feedback has been proposed as a potential mechanism driving the vigorous atmospheric circulation on BDs and directly imaged EGPs, and yet it has not been demonstrated in three-dimensional dynamical models at relevant conditions. Here, we present a series of atmospheric circulation models that self-consistently couple dynamics with idealized cloud formation and its radiative effects. We demonstrate that vigorous atmospheric circulation can be triggered and self-maintained by cloud radiative feedback. Typical isobaric temperature variation could reach over 100 K and horizontally averaged wind speed could be several hundreds of $\, {\rm m\, s^{-1}}$. The circulation is dominated by cloud-forming and clear-sky vortices that evolve over time-scales from several to tens of hours. The typical horizontal length-scale of dominant vortices is closed to the Rossby deformation radius, showing a linear dependence on the inverse of rotation rate. Stronger rotation tends to weaken vertical transport of vapour and clouds, leading to overall thinner clouds. Domain-mean outgoing radiative flux exhibits variability over time-scales of tens of hours due to the statistical evolution of storms. Different bottom boundary conditions in the models could lead to qualitatively different circulation near the observable layer. The circulation driven by cloud radiative feedback represents a robust mechanism generating significant surface inhomogeneity as well as irregular flux time variability. Our results have important implications for near-infrared (IR) colours of dusty BDs and EGPs, including the scatter in the near-IR colour–magnitude diagram and the viewing-geometry-dependent near-IR colours.


The Oxford Magnetic Suspension and Balance System: a brief history & development status

AIAA Scitech 2021 Forum American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (2021)

M Tombs, N Donaldson, L Doherty, A Owen, P Ireland, C Wilson

This paper traces the history of the Oxford Magnetic Suspension and Balance System, from its initial development in the 1960s through to current times. Developed in conjunction with the Oxford Low Density Tunnel, the balance has been a key instrument throughout its history for investigating aerodynamic forces at high Mach numbers, low density flows across the continuum, slip and transition regimes. An initial balance was developed as a 2-axis system with control over only lift and drag. Following its success, a second balance was designed to control lift, drag and additionally pitch. This enabled more complex geometries, such as a re-entry Aerobrake model and NASA’s X-43 hypersonic demonstrator to be investigated. The evolution of the electro-mechanical design of each balance and the associated model attitude detection systems are described in this paper. Operational issues encountered with the system and sample results from past studies are also presented and discussed. The paper concludes with an outlook to the future development and application of the magnetic suspension balance system within the Oxford Low Density Tunnel.


Introduction to Icarus special issue “From Mars Express to ExoMars”

Icarus Elsevier (2020)

MA Lopez-Valverde, DV Titov, CF Wilson


Spatial variations in the altitude of the CH4 Homopause at Jupiter’s mid-to-high latitudes, as constrained from IRTF-TEXES Spectra 

The Planetary Science Journal IOP Publishing 1 (2020) 85

JA Sinclair, TK Greathouse, RS Giles, A Antuñano, JI Moses, T Fouchet, B Bézard, C Tao, J Martín-Torres, GB Clark, D Grodent, GS Orton, V Hue, LN Fletcher, PGJ Irwin

We present an analysis of IRTF-TEXES spectra of Jupiter's mid-to-high latitudes in order to test the hypothesis that the CH4 homopause altitude is higher in Jupiter's auroral regions compared to elsewhere on the planet. A family of photochemical models, based on Moses & Poppe (2017), were computed with a range of CH4 homopause altitudes. Adopting each model in turn, the observed TEXES spectra of H2 S(1), CH4, and CH3 emission measured on 2019 April 16 and August 20 were inverted, the vertical temperature profile was allowed to vary, and the quality of the fit to the spectra was used to discriminate between models. At latitudes equatorward of Jupiter's main auroral ovals (>62°S, <54°N, planetocentric), the observations were adequately fit assuming a homopause altitude lower than ~360 km (above 1 bar). At 62°N, inside the main auroral oval, we derived a CH4 homopause altitude of ${461}_{-39}^{+147}$ km, whereas outside the main oval at the same latitude, a 1σ upper limit of 370 km was derived. Our interpretation is that a portion of energy from the magnetosphere is deposited as heat within the main oval, which drives vertical winds and/or higher rates of turbulence and transports CH4 and its photochemical by-products to higher altitudes. Inside the northern main auroral oval, a factor of ~3 increase in CH3 abundance was also required to fit the spectra. This could be due to uncertainties in the photochemical modeling or an additional source of CH3 production in Jupiter's auroral regions.


Neptune and Uranus: ice or rock giants?

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences Royal Society 378 (2020) 20190489

N Teanby, P Irwin, J Moses, R Helled

</p>Existing observations of Uranus and Neptune’s fundamental physical properties can be fitted with a wide range of interior models. A key parameter in these models is the bulk rock:ice ratio and models broadly fall into ice-dominated (ice giant) and rock-dominated (rock giant) categories. Here we consider how observations of Neptune’s atmospheric temperature and composition (H2, He, D/H, CO, CH4, H2O and CS) can provide further constraints. The tropospheric CO profile in particular is highly diagnostic of interior ice content, but is also controversial, with deep values ranging from zero to 0.5 parts per million. Most existing CO profiles imply extreme O/H enrichments of >250 times solar composition, thus favouring an ice giant. However, such high O/H enrichment is not consistent with D/H observations for a fully mixed and equilibrated Neptune. CO and D/H measurements can be reconciled if there is incomplete interior mixing (ice giant) or if tropospheric CO has a solely external source and only exists in the upper troposphere (rock giant). An interior with more rock than ice is also more compatible with likely outer solar system ice sources. We primarily consider Neptune, but similar arguments apply to Uranus, which has comparable C/H and D/H enrichment, but no observed tropospheric CO. While both ice- and rock-dominated models are viable, we suggest a rock giant provides a more consistent match to available atmospheric observations.</p> <p>This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘Future exploration of ice giant systems’.</p>


Revealing the Intensity of Turbulent Energy Transfer in Planetary Atmospheres

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS 47 (2020) ARTN e2020GL088685

S Cabanes, S Espa, B Galperin, RMB Young, PL Read


Colour and tropospheric cloud structure of Jupiter from MUSE/VLT: retrieving a universal chromophore

Icarus Elsevier 338 (2020) 113589

AS Braude, P Irwin, GS Orton, LN Fletcher

Recent work by Sromovsky et al. (2017, Icarus 291, 232-244) suggested that all red colour in Jupiter’s atmosphere could be explained by a single colour-carrying compound, a so-called ‘universal chromophore’. We tested this hypothesis on ground-based spectroscopic observations in the visible and near-infrared (480- 930 nm) from the VLT/MUSE instrument between 2014 and 2018, retrieving a chromophore absorption spectrum directly from the North Equatorial Belt, and applying it to model spatial variations in colour, tropospheric cloud and haze structure on Jupiter. We found that we could model both the belts and the Great Red Spot of Jupiter using the same chromophore compound, but that this chromophore must exhibit a steeper blue-absorption gradient than the proposed chromophore of Carlson et al. (2016, Icarus 274, 106–115). We retrieved this chromophore to be located no deeper than 0.2±0.1 bars in the Great Red Spot and 0.7±0.1 bars elsewhere on Jupiter. However, we also identified some spectral variability between 510 nm and 540 nm that could not be accounted for by a universal chromophore. In addition, we retrieved a thick, global cloud layer at 1.4 ± 0.3 bars that was relatively spatially invariant in altitude across Jupiter. We found that this cloud layer was best characterised by a real refractive index close to that of ammonia ice in the belts and the Great Red Spot, and poorly characterised by a real refractive index of 1.6 or greater. This may be the result of ammonia cloud at higher altitude obscuring a deeper cloud layer of unknown composition.


Atmospheric dynamics of hot giant planets and brown dwarfs

Space Science Reviews Springer 216 (2020) 139

AP Showman, X Tan, V Parmentier

Groundbased and spacecraft telescopic observations, combined with an intensive modeling effort, have greatly enhanced our understanding of hot giant planets and brown dwarfs over the past ten years. Although these objects are all fluid, hydrogen worlds with stratified atmospheres overlying convective interiors, they exhibit an impressive diversity of atmospheric behavior. Hot Jupiters are strongly irradiated, and a wealth of observations constrain the day-night temperature differences, circulation, and cloudiness. The intense stellar irradiation, presumed tidal locking and modest rotation leads to a novel regime of strong day-night radiative forcing. Circulation models predict large day-night temperature differences, global-scale eddies, patchy clouds, and, in most cases, a fast eastward jet at the equator—equatorial superrotation. The warm Jupiters lie farther from their stars and are not generally tidally locked, so they may exhibit a wide range of rotation rates, obliquities, and orbital eccentricities, which, along with the weaker irradiation, leads to circulation patterns and observable signatures predicted to differ substantially from hot Jupiters. Brown dwarfs are typically isolated, rapidly rotating worlds; they radiate enormous energy fluxes into space and convect vigorously in their interiors. Their atmospheres exhibit patchiness in clouds and temperature on regional to global scales—the result of modulation by large-scale atmospheric circulation. Despite the lack of irradiation, such circulations can be driven by interaction of the interior convection with the overlying atmosphere, as well as self-organization of patchiness due to cloud-dynamical-radiative feedbacks. Finally, irradiated brown dwarfs help to bridge the gap between these classes of objects, experiencing intense external irradiation as well as vigorous interior convection. Collectively, these diverse objects span over six orders of magnitude in intrinsic heat flux and incident stellar flux, and two orders of magnitude in rotation rate—thereby placing strong constraints on how the circulation of giant planets (broadly defined) depend on these parameters. A hierarchy of modeling approaches have yielded major new insights into the dynamics governing these phenomena.


Color and aerosol changes in Jupiter after a North Temperate Belt disturbance

Icarus Elsevier BV 352 (2020) 114031

S Pérez-Hoyos, A Sánchez-Lavega, J Sanz-Requena, N Barrado-Izagirre, O Carrión-González, A Anguiano-Arteaga, P Irwin, A Braude


Detection of CH3C3N in Titan’s Atmosphere

The Astrophysical Journal American Astronomical Society 903 (2020) L22-L22

AE Thelen, MA Cordiner, CA Nixon, V Vuitton, Z Kisiel, SB Charnley, MY Palmer, NA Teanby, PGJ Irwin


Detection of Cyclopropenylidene on Titan with ALMA

The Astronomical Journal American Astronomical Society 160 (2020) 205-205

CA Nixon, AE Thelen, MA Cordiner, Z Kisiel, SB Charnley, EM Molter, J Serigano, PGJ Irwin, NA Teanby, Y-J Kuan


Hydrological Cycle Changes Explain Weak Snowball Earth Storm Track Despite Increased Surface Baroclinicity

Geophysical Research Letters 47 (2020)

T Shaw, R Graham

&#xA9;2020. The Authors. Simulations show that storm tracks were weaker during past cold, icy climates relative to the modern climate despite increased surface baroclinicity. Previous work explained the weak North Atlantic storm track during the Last Glacial Maximum using dry zonally asymmetric mechanisms associated with orographic forcing. Here we show that zonally symmetric mechanisms associated with the hydrological cycle explain the weak Snowball Earth storm track. The weak storm track is consistent with the decreased meridional gradient of evaporation and atmospheric shortwave absorption and can be predicted following global mean cooling and the Clausius-Clapeyron relation. The weak storm track is also consistent with decreased latent heat release aloft in the tropics, which decreases upper tropospheric baroclinicity and mean available potential energy. Overall, both hydrological cycle mechanisms are reflected in the significant correlation between storm track intensity and the meridional surface moist static energy gradient across a range of simulated climates between modern and Snowball Earth.


Atmospheric circulation of tidally locked gas giants with increasing rotation and implications for white dwarf–Brown dwarf systems

Astrophysical Journal 902 (2020)

X Tan, AP Showman

© 2020. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved. Tidally locked gas giants, which exhibit a novel regime of day–night thermal forcing and extreme stellar irradiation, are typically in several-day orbits, implying a modest role for rotation in the atmospheric circulation. Nevertheless, there exist a class of gas-giant, highly irradiated objects—brown dwarfs orbiting white dwarfs in extremely tight orbits—whose orbital and hence rotation periods are as short as 1–2 hr. Phase curves and other observations have already been obtained for this class of objects, raising fundamental questions about the role of an increasing planetary rotation rate in controlling the circulation. So far, most modeling studies have investigated rotation periods exceeding a day, as appropriate for typical hot Jupiters. In this work, we investigate atmospheric circulation of tidally locked atmospheres with decreasing rotation periods (increasing rotation rate) down to 2.5 hr. With a decreasing rotation period, we show that the width of the equatorial eastward jet decreases, consistent with the narrowing of the equatorial waveguide due to a decrease of the equatorial deformation radius. The eastward-shifted equatorial hot-spot offset decreases accordingly, and the off-equatorial westward-shifted hot areas become increasingly distinctive. At high latitudes, winds become weaker and more rotationally dominated. The day–night temperature contrast becomes larger due to the stronger influence of rotation. Our simulated atmospheres exhibit variability, presumably caused by instabilities and wave interactions. Unlike typical hot Jupiter models, the thermal phase curves of rapidly rotating models show a near alignment of peak flux to secondary eclipse. This result helps to explain why, unlike hot Jupiters, brown dwarfs closely orbiting white dwarfs tend to exhibit IR flux peaks nearly aligned with secondary eclipse. Our results have important implications for understanding fast-rotating, tidally locked atmospheres.


Atmospheric circulation of tidally locked gas giants with increasing rotation and implications for white-dwarf-brown-dwarf systems

Astrophysical Journal IOP Publishing 902 (2020) 27

X Tan, AP Showman

Tidally locked gas giants, which exhibit a novel regime of day–night thermal forcing and extreme stellar irradiation, are typically in several-day orbits, implying a modest role for rotation in the atmospheric circulation. Nevertheless, there exist a class of gas-giant, highly irradiated objects—brown dwarfs orbiting white dwarfs in extremely tight orbits—whose orbital and hence rotation periods are as short as 1–2 hr. Phase curves and other observations have already been obtained for this class of objects, raising fundamental questions about the role of an increasing planetary rotation rate in controlling the circulation. So far, most modeling studies have investigated rotation periods exceeding a day, as appropriate for typical hot Jupiters. In this work, we investigate atmospheric circulation of tidally locked atmospheres with decreasing rotation periods (increasing rotation rate) down to 2.5 hr. With a decreasing rotation period, we show that the width of the equatorial eastward jet decreases, consistent with the narrowing of the equatorial waveguide due to a decrease of the equatorial deformation radius. The eastward-shifted equatorial hot-spot offset decreases accordingly, and the off-equatorial westward-shifted hot areas become increasingly distinctive. At high latitudes, winds become weaker and more rotationally dominated. The day–night temperature contrast becomes larger due to the stronger influence of rotation. Our simulated atmospheres exhibit variability, presumably caused by instabilities and wave interactions. Unlike typical hot Jupiter models, the thermal phase curves of rapidly rotating models show a near alignment of peak flux to secondary eclipse. This result helps to explain why, unlike hot Jupiters, brown dwarfs closely orbiting white dwarfs tend to exhibit IR flux peaks nearly aligned with secondary eclipse. Our results have important implications for understanding fast-rotating, tidally locked atmospheres.


The Phase-curve Signature of Condensible Water-rich Atmospheres on Slowly Rotating Tidally Locked Exoplanets

ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL LETTERS 901 (2020) ARTN L33

F Ding, RT Pierrehumbert


C2N2 vertical profile in Titan’s stratosphere

Astronomical Journal IOP Publishing 160 (2020) 178

M Sylvestre, N Teanby, M Dobrijevic, J Sharkey, P Irwin

In this paper, we present the first measurements of the vertical distribution of cyanogen (${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$) in Titan's lower atmosphere at different latitudes and seasons, using Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer far-infrared data. We also study the vertical distribution of three other minor species detected in our data: methylacetylene (${{\rm{C}}}_{3}{{\rm{H}}}_{4}$), diacetylene (${{\rm{C}}}_{4}{{\rm{H}}}_{2}$), and ${{\rm{H}}}_{2}{\rm{O}}$, in order to compare them to ${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$, but also to get an overview of their seasonal and meridional variations in Titan's lower stratosphere from 85 km to 225 km. We measured an average volume mixing ratio of ${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$ of $6.2\pm 0.8\times {10}^{-11}$ at 125 km at the equator, but poles exhibit a strong enrichment in ${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$ (up to a factor 100 compared to the equator), greater than what was measured for ${{\rm{C}}}_{3}{{\rm{H}}}_{4}$ or ${{\rm{C}}}_{4}{{\rm{H}}}_{2}$. Measuring ${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$ profiles provides constraints on the processes controlling its distribution, such as bombardment by Galactic Cosmic Rays which seem to have a smaller influence on ${{\rm{C}}}_{2}{{\rm{N}}}_{2}$ than predicted by photochemical models.

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