Photochemistry in Saturn’s Ring-Shadowed Atmosphere: Modulation of Hydrocarbons and Observations of Dust Content
Abstract:Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for over eleven years now. During this epoch, the ring shadow has moved from covering much of the northern hemisphere (the solar inclination was 24 degrees) to covering a large swath south of the equator and it continues to move southward. At Saturn Orbit Insertion in 2004, the projection of the A-ring onto Saturn reached as far as 40N along the central meridian (52N at the terminator). At its maximum extent, the ring shadow can reach as far as 48N/S (58N/S at the terminator). The net effect is that the intensity of both ultraviolet and visible sunlight penetrating through the rings to any particular latitude will vary depending on both Saturn’s axis relative to the Sun and the optical thickness of each ring system. In essence, the rings act like semi-transparent venetian blinds.
Our previous work examined the variation of the solar flux as a function of solar inclination, i.e. for each 7.25-year season at Saturn. Here, we report on the impact of the oscillating ring shadow on the photolysis and production rates of hydrocarbons (acetylene, ethane, propane, and benzene) and phosphine in Saturn’s stratosphere and upper troposphere. The impact of these production and loss rates on the abundance of long-lived photochemical products leading to haze formation are explored. Similarly, we assess their impact on phosphine abundance, a disequilibrium species whose presence in the upper troposphere can be used as a tracer of convective processes in the deeper atmosphere.
We will also present our ongoing analysis of Cassini’s CIRS, UVIS, and VIMS datasets that provide an estimate of the evolving haze content of the northern hemisphere and we will begin to assess the implications for dynamical mixing. In particular, we will examine how the now famous hexagonal jet stream acts like a barrier to transport, isolating Saturn’s north polar region from outside transport of photochemically-generated molecules and haze.
The research described in this paper was carried out in part at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Copyright 2015 California Institute of Technology. Government sponsorship is acknowledged.