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.
Paul Abell, NASA Johnson Flight Center
I will present the current status of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that is planned for launch in December 2021. Specifically I will discuss how a solar-electric powered robotic spacecraft will visit a large near-Earth asteroid (NEA), collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, perform a planetary defense technique at the NEA, and return with the boulder into a stable orbit around the Moon. I will also discuss how astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft will subsequently explore the boulder, conduct investigations during their extravehicular activities, and return samples to Earth. I will demonstrate how the ARM is part of NASA’s plan to advance technologies, capabilities, and spaceflight experience needed for a human mission to the Martian system in the 2030s. Finally I will discuss how the ARM and subsequent availability of the asteroidal material in cis-lunar space, provide significant opportunities to advance our knowledge of small bodies in terms of science, planetary defense, and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).
Outer Planets Update
Dr. Amy Simon, NASA
The Hubble Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL) program is a yearly program for observing each of the outer planets over two full rotations. Observations began with Uranus in 2014, adding Neptune and Jupiter in 2015 (Saturn will be included in 2018, after the end of the Cassini mission). These observations have provided interesting new discoveries in their own right, but are also now being combined with observations from a number of facilities, including NASA’s IRTF, Keck, the VLA, as well as the Kepler and Spitzer missions to further expand the breadth of science they contain. This talk will cover the latest observations for each of these planets and what we are learning from these data sets.
Cosmology from the Moon: The Dark Ages Radio Explorer (DARE)
Dr. Jack Burns, University of Colorado Boulder
In the New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy & Astrophysics Decadal Survey, Cosmic Dawn was singled out as one of the top astrophysics priorities for this decade. Specifically, the Decadal report asked “when and how did the first galaxies form out of cold clumps of hydrogen gas and start to shine—when was our cosmic dawn?” It proposed “astronomers must now search the sky for these infant galaxies and find out how they behaved and interacted with their surroundings.” This is the science objective of DARE – to search for the first stars, galaxies, and black holes via their impact on the intergalactic medium (IGM) as measured by the highly redshifted 21-cm hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen (HI). DARE will probe redshifts of 11-35 (Dark Ages to Cosmic Dawn) with observed HI frequencies of 40-120 MHz. DARE will observe expected spectral features in the global signal of HI that correspond to stellar ignition (Lyman-α from the first stars coupling with the HI hyperfine transition), X-ray heating/ionization of the IGM from the first accreting black holes, and the beginning of reionization (signal dominated by IGM ionization fraction). These observations will complement those expected from JWST, ALMA, and HERA. We propose to observe these spectral features with a broad-beam dipole antenna along with a wide-band receiver and digital spectrometer. We will place DARE in lunar orbit and take data only above the farside, a location known to be free of human-generated RFI and with a negligible ionosphere. In this talk, I will present the mission concept including initial results from an engineering prototypes which are designed to perform end-to-end validation of the instrument and our calibration techniques. I will also describe our signal extraction tool, using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo technique, which measures the parameterized spectral features in the presence of substantial Galactic and solar system foregrounds.
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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Solving the Puzzles of the Moon
Shun Karato, Yale University
After 50 years from the first landing of men on the Moon, about 380 kg of samples were collected by the Apollo mission. Chemical analyses of these samples together with a theory of planetary formation led to a “giant impact” paradigm (in mid 1970s). In this paradigm, the Moon was formed in the later stage of Earth formation (not the very late stage, though), when the proto-Earth was hit by an impactor with a modest size (~ Mars size) at an oblique angle. Such an impact is a natural consequence of planetary formation from a proto-planetary nebula. This collision may have kicked out mantle materials from the proto-Earth to form the Moon. This model explains mostly rocky composition of the Moon and the large angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system. High temperatures caused by an impact likely removed much of the volatile components such as water.
However, two recent geochemical observations cast doubt about the validity of such a paradigm. They include (i) not-so-dry Moon suggested from the analysis of basaltic inclusions in olivine, and (ii) the high degree of similarities in many isotopes. The first observation is obviously counter-intuitive, but the second one is also hard to reconcile with the standard model of a giant impact, because many models show that a giant impact produces the Moon mostly from the impactor. In this presentation, I will show how one can solve these puzzles by a combination of physics/chemistry of materials with some basic physics of a giant impact.