Colloquium Thesis Proposal: Alexander Thelen (Host: Nancy Chanover)
Mar 11 @ 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Colloquium Thesis Proposal:  Alexander Thelen  (Host: Nancy Chanover) @ BX102

The Chemical History and Evolution of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA

 Alexander Thelen, NMSU

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, possesses a substantial atmosphere containing significant minorities of nitrile and hydrocarbon species, predominantly due to the photodissociation of the major gases, N2 and CH4. Titan’s methane cycle, liquid lakes, and complex organic chemistry make it an intriguing target through its similarities to Earth and the allure of its astrobiological potential. Though the existence of heavy nitrile species – such as CH3C3N, HC5N, and C3H7CN – has been inferred through Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) data, confirmation of these species has yet to be made spectroscopically. Other hydrocarbon species, such as C3H4 and C3H8 have been detected using Voyager’s Infrared Spectrometer (IRIS; Maguire et al., 1981) and later mapped by the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS; Nixon et al., 2013) onboard Cassini, but abundance constraints for these species in the mesosphere is poor. To fully understand the production of these species and their spatial distribution in Titan’s atmosphere, vertical abundance profiles must be produced to use with current photochemical models. Utilizing early science calibration images of Titan obtained with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), Cordiner et al. (2014; 2015) determined the vertical distribution of various nitriles and hydrocarbons in Titan’s atmosphere, including at least one previously undetected molecule – C2H5CN. For my dissertation project, I will calibrate and model sub-millimeter emissions from molecules in Titan’s atmosphere, and quantify variations in the spatial distribution of various species throughout its seasonal cycle by utilizing high resolution ALMA data.  The main goals of this project are as follows:
1. To search for previously undetected molecules in Titan’s atmosphere through analysis of the existing public ALMA data, and/or through ALMA proposals of my own;
2. Constrain abundance profiles of detected molecular species, and provide upper abundance limits for those we cannot detect;
3. Map the spatial distribution of detected species in order to improve our understanding of Titan’s atmospheric transport and circulation;
4. Determine how these spatial distributions change over Titan’s seasonal cycle by utilizing multiple years of public ALMA data.
The majority of this work will employ the Non-linear Optimal Estimator for MultivariatE Spectral analySIS (NEMESIS) software package, developed by Oxford University (Irwin et al., 2008), to retrieve abundance and temperature information through radiative transfer models. These results will allow us to investigate the chemical evolution and history of Titan’s rich, pre-biotic atmosphere by providing valuable abundance measurements and constraints to molecular photochemical and dynamical models. We will compare our results with measurements made by the Cassini spacecraft, thereby enhancing the scientific return from both orbiter and ALMA datasets. The increased inventory of complex, organic molecules observable with ALMA’s sub-mm frequency range and high spatial resolution may also yield detections of species fundamental to the formation of living organisms, such as amino acids. Thus, by informing photochemical and dynamical models and increasing our known inventory of complex molecular species, we will also assess Titan’s potential habitability.

Colloquium Thesis Defense: Lauren Kahre
Jan 23 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Colloquium Thesis Defense: Lauren Kahre

Extinction Mapping and Dust-to-Gas Ratios of Nearby Galaxies

Lauren Kahre, NMSU

We present a study of the dust{to{gas ratios in 31 nearby (D >
10 Mpc) galaxies. Using Hubble Space Telescope broad band WFC3/UVIS UV and
optical images from the Treasury program LEGUS (Legacy ExtraGalactic UV
Survey) combined with archival HST/ACS data, we correct thousands of
individual stars for extinction across these galaxies using an
isochrone-matching (reddening-free Q) method. We generate extinction maps
for each galaxy from the individual stellar extinctions using both
adaptive and fixed resolution techniques, and correlate these maps with
neutral HI and CO gas maps from literature, including The HI Nearby Galaxy
Survey (THINGS) and the HERA CO-Line ExtraGalactic Survey (HERACLES). We
calculate dust-to-gas ratios and investigate variations in the dust-to-gas
ratio with galaxy metallicity. We find a power law relationship between
dust-to-gas ratio and metallicity. The single power law is consistent with
other studies of dust-to-gas ratio compared to metallicity, while the
broken power law shows a significantly shallower slope for low metallicity
galaxies than previously observed. We find a change in the relation when
H_2 is not included. This implies that underestimation of N_H2 in
low-metallicity dwarfs from a too-low CO-to-H2 conversion factor X_CO
could have produced too low a slope in the derived relationship between
dust-to-gas ratio and metallicity. We also
compare our extinctions to those derived from fitting the spectral energy
distribution (SED) using the Bayesian Extinction and Stellar Tool (BEAST)
for NGC 7793 and and systematically lower extinctions from SED-fitting as
compared to isochrone matching. Finally, we compare our extinction maps of
NGC 628 to maps of the dust obtained via IR emission from Aniano et al.
(2012) and find a factor of 2 difference in dust-to-gas ratios determined
from the two maps, consistent with previous work.