The Chemical History and Evolution of Titan’s Atmosphere as Revealed by ALMA
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.
A .pdf of the talk can be found here.
Cold Gas and the Evolution of Early-type Galaxies
Lisa Young, New Mexico Tech
A major theme of galaxy evolution is understanding how today’s Hubble sequence was
established — what makes some galaxies red spheroidals and others blue disks, and what
drives their relative numbers and their spatial distributions. One way of addressing these
questions is that galaxies themselves hold clues to their formation in their internal
structures. Recent observations of early-type galaxies in particular (ellipticals and
lenticulars) have shown that their seemingly placid, nearly featureless optical images can
be deceptive. Kinematic data show that the early-type galaxies have a wide variety of
internal kinematic structures that are the relics of dramatic merging and accretion
events. A surprising number of the early-type galaxies also contain cold atomic and
molecular gas, which is significant because their transitions to the red sequence must
involve removing most of their cold gas (the raw material for star formation). We can now
also read clues to the evolution of early-type galaxies in the kinematics and the
metallicity of their gas, and possibly also in the rare isotope abundance patterns in the
cold gas. Numerical simulations are beginning to work on reproducing these cold gas
properties, so that we can place the early-type galaxies into their broader context.
Starless clumps and the earliest phases of high-mass star formation in the Milky Way
Brian Svoboda, NRAO Jansky Fellow
High-mass stars are key to regulating the interstellar medium, star formation activity, and overall evolution of galaxies, but their formation remains an open problem in astrophysics. In order to understand the physical conditions during the earliest phases of high-mass star formation, I will present observational studies we have carried out on dense starless clump candidates (SCCs) that show no signatures of star formation activity. We identify 2223 SCCs from the 1.1 mm Bolocam Galactic Plane Survey, systematically analyse their physical properties, and show that the starless phase is not represented by a single timescale, but evolves more rapidly with increasing clump mass. To investigate the sub-structure in SCCs at high spatial resolution, we investigate the 12 most high-mass SCCs within 5 kpc using ALMA. We find previously undetected low-luminosity protostars in 11 out of 12 SCCs, fragmentation equal to the thermal Jeans length of the clump, and no starless cores exceeding 30 solar masses. While uncertainties remain concerning the star formation efficiency in this sample, these observational facts are consistent with models where high-mass stars form from initially low- to intermediate-mass protostars that accrete most of their mass from the surrounding clump. I will also present on-going research studying gas inflow signatures with GBT/Argus and ALMA, and the dense core mass function with the JVLA.
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An Observer’s Examination of the Circumgalactic Medium using Cosmological Simulations
Rachel Marra, NMSU
A significant aspect to understanding galaxy evolution is having an understanding of the intricacies involving the inflow and outflow of baryons onto a galaxy. Gas needs to accrete onto the galaxy in order for star formation to occur, while stellar winds, supernovae, and radiation pressure result in the outflow of gas from the galaxy. The diffuse region around the galaxy that has gas from interstellar medium (ISM) inflows and intergalactic medium (IGM) outflows interacting is the circumgalactic medium (CGM). Studying the CGM will help us learn about the baryon cycle and give us a better understanding of galactic evolution.
The primary method to studying the CGM is through absorption, as the density is too low to detect emission. Studying these absorption features allows us to learn about the physical properties of the gas giving rise to the absorption. Other than through observations, cosmological simulations play a large role in how we learn about the CGM of galaxies. Using MOCKSPEC, the Quasar Absorption Line Analysis Pipeline, to create mock quasar sightlines through the VELA simulation suite of galaxies, we use the absorption features seen in the sightlines to study the CGM in the simulations. While there are many ions that are used to study the CGM, we focus on OVI.
We intend to study how effective our methods are for studying the CGM with both observations and simulations. The covering fraction of OVI for a sample of observed galaxies will be compared with the covering fraction that is found from a selection of LOS that probe simulated, Milky-Way type galaxies. This tells us if the simulations can reproduce the observations, and if they do not, we can gain insights as to why the simulations do not match observed data. We will also investigate if the metallicity calculated from an observed absorption feature reflects the actual metallicity of the probed gas by using mock sightlines through simulations. Additionally, we will do a comparison of different methodologies used to study the CGM in simulations, to determine if using mock quasar sightlines is a more realistic and accurate method to compare to observed data.
Charting the Outer Reaches of Exoplanetary Systems: Wide-Separation Giant Planet Demographics with Direct Imaging
Eric Nielsen, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Stanford University
Over the past decade, the combination of advances in adaptive optics, coronagraphy, and data processing has enabled the direct detection and characterization of giant exoplanets orbiting young, nearby stars. In addition to the wealth of information about exoplanetary atmospheres we obtain from spectroscopy of directly imaged planets, the demographics of these wide-separation planets allow us to directly test theories of planet formation, probing the outer planetary systems compared to transit and radial velocity techniques. In this talk I will present results from the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey (GPIES), which surveyed 521 nearby stars for giant planet and brown dwarf companions orbiting beyond 5 AU, and is one of the largest, deepest direct imaging searches for exoplanets every conducted. The overall occurrence rate of substellar companions, and trends with companion mass, semi-major axis, and stellar mass are consistent with giant planets forming via core accretion, and point to different formation mechanisms for giant planets and brown dwarfs between 10 and 100 AU.