Atomic Carbon Chemistry in Photolyzed Triton-like Ices

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Scientific paper

We report photochemical studies of thin cryogenic ice films composed of N2, CH4 and CO in ratios similar to those on the surfaces of Neptune's largest satellite, Triton, and on Pluto. Experiments were performed using a hydrogen discharge lamp, which provides an intense source of ultraviolet light in order to elucidate the solar induced photochemistry of these icy bodies. Characterization via infrared spectroscopy showed that C2H6 and C2H2, and HCO are formed by the dissociation of CH4 into H and CH3 and the subsequent reaction of these radicals within the ice. Other radical species, such as C2, C2-, CN, and CNN are observed in the visible and UV regions of the spectrum. These species imply a rich chemistry based on reactions of atomic carbon with the N2 matrix. We discuss the implications of the formation of these radicals for the chemical evolution of Triton and Pluto. Ultimately, this work suggests that C2-, CN, HCO, and CNN may be found in significant quantities on the surfaces of Triton and Pluto and that new observations of these objects in the appropriate wavelength regions are warranted.

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