The THS Experiment: Ex Situ Analyses of Titan’s Aerosol Analogs Produced at Low Temperature (200K)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Ella M Sciamma-O'Brien1,2, Kathleen T Upton3, Jesse L Beauchamp3 and Farid Salama1, (1)NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (2)Bay Area Environmental Research Institute Moffett Field, Moffett Field, CA, United States, (3)Caltech, Pasadena, CA, United States
In the study presented here, we used the COSmIC/Titan Haze Simulation (THS) experiment, an experimental platform developed to study Titan’s atmospheric chemistry at low temperature, to produce aerosols representative of the early stages of Titan’s aerosol formation. In the THS, the chemistry is simulated by plasma in the stream of a supersonic expansion. With this unique design, the gas is jet-cooled to Titan-like temperature (~150K) before inducing the chemistry by plasma, and remains at low temperature in the plasma discharge (~200K). Because of the pulsed nature of the plasma, the residence time of the gas in the discharge is only a few microseconds, which leads to a truncated chemistry and allows for the study of the first and intermediate steps of the chemistry. Different N2-CH4-based gas mixtures can be injected in the plasma, with or without the addition of heavier precursors present as trace elements on Titan, in order to monitor the evolution of the chemical growth. Both the gas phase and solid phase products resulting from the plasma-induced chemistry can be monitored and analyzed using a combination of complementary in situ and ex situ diagnostics.

In a recently published study, a mass spectrometry analysis of the gas phase has demonstrated that the THS is a unique tool to probe the first and intermediate steps of Titan’s atmospheric chemistry at Titan-like temperature. In particular, the mass spectra obtained in a N2-CH4-C2H2-C6H6 mixture are relevant for comparison to Cassini’s CAPS-IBS instrument. Here we present the results of a complementary study of the solid phase. Scanning Electron Microscopy images have shown that aggregates produced in N2-CH4-C2H2-C6H6 mixtures are much larger (up to 5 μm in diameter) than those produced in N2-CH4 mixtures (0.1-0.5 μm). Direct Analysis in Real Time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) combined with Collision Induced Dissociation (CID) have detected the presence of aminoacetonitrile, a precursor of glycine, in the THS aerosols. IR measurements show the influence of the trace elements on the balance between aliphatic and aromatic functional groups present in the aerosols. These complementary studies show the high potential of THS to better understand Titan’s chemistry and the origin of aerosol formation.


This research is supported by NASA SMD PATM.