Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Computer models suggest planetary and extrasolar planet atmospheres

20.06.2007
A gas, gas, gas

The world is abuzz with the discovery of an extrasolar, Earth-like planet around the star Gliese 581 that is relatively close to our Earth at 20 light years away in the constellation Libra.

Bruce Fegley, Jr., Ph.D., professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has worked on computer models that can provide hints to what comprises the atmosphere of such planets and better-known celestial bodies in our own solar system.

New computer models, from both Earth-based spectroscopy and space mission data, are providing space scientists compelling evidence for a better understanding of planetary atmospheric chemistry. Recent findings suggest a trend of increasing water content in going from Jupiter (depleted in water), to Saturn (less enriched in water than other volatiles), to Uranus and Neptune, which have large water enrichments.

"The farther out you go in the solar system, the more water you find," said Fegley.

Fegley provided an overview of comparative planetary atmospheric chemistry at the 233rd American Chemical Society National Meeting, held March 25-29, 2007, in Chicago. Fegley and Katharina Lodders-Fegley, Ph.D., research associate professor of earth and planetary sciences, direct the university's Planetary Chemistry Laboratory.

"The theory about the Gas Giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) is that they have primary atmospheres, which means that their atmospheres were captured directly from the solar nebula during accretion of the planets," Fegley said.

Gas Giants

He said that Jupiter has more hydrogen and helium and less carbon, nitrogen and oxygen than the other Gas Giant planets, making its composition closer to that of the hydrogen- and helium-rich sun. The elements hydrogen, carbon and oxygen are predominantly found as water, the gases molecular hydrogen and methane and in the atmospheres of the Gas Giant planets.

"Spectroscopic observations and interior models show that Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are enriched in heavier elements," he said. "Jupiter, based on observations from the Galileo Probe, is depleted in water. People have thought that Galileo might just have gone into a dry area. But Earth-based observations show that the carbon monoxide abundance in Jupiter's atmosphere is consistent with the observed abundances of methane, hydrogen and water vapor. This pretty much validates the Galileo Probe finding."

The abundances of these four gases are related by the reaction CH4+H20 = CO+3H2. Thus, observations of the methane, hydrogen and CO abundances can be used to calculate the water vapor abundance. Likewise, Earth-based observations of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide in Saturn's atmosphere show that water is less enriched than methane.

In contrast, observations of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune show that water is greatly enriched in these two planets. Although generally classed with Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are water planets with relatively thin gaseous envelopes.

"On the other hand, the terrestrial planets Venus, Earth and Mars have secondary atmospheres formed afterwards by outgassing — heating up the solid material that was accreted and then releasing the volatile compounds from it," Fegley said. "That then formed the earliest atmosphere."

He said that by plugging in models he's done on the outgassing of chondritic materials and using photochemical models of the effects of UV sunlight, he and his collaborator Laura Schaefer, a research assistant in the Washington University Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, can speculate on the atmospheric composition of Earth-like planets in other solar systems.

"With new theoretical models we are able to surmise the outgassing of materials that went into forming the planets, and even make predictions about the atmospheres of extrasolar terrestrial planets," he said.

"Because the composition of the galaxy is relatively uniform, most stars are like the sun — hydrogen-rich with about the same abundances of rocky elements — we can predict what these planetary atmospheres would be like," Fegley said. "I think that the atmospheres of extrasolar Earth-like plants would be more like Mars or Venus than the Earth."

Fegley said that photosynthesis accounts for the oxygen in Earth's atmosphere; without it, the Earth's atmosphere would consist of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor, with only small amounts of oxygen. Oxygen is 21 percent of Earth's atmosphere; in contrast, Mars has about one-tenth of one percent made by UV sunlight destroying carbon dioxide.

"I see Mars today as a great natural laboratory for photochemistry; Venus is the same for thermochemistry, and Earth for biochemistry," he said. "Mars has such a thin atmosphere compared to Earth or Venus. UV light can penetrate all the way down to the Martian surface before it's absorbed. That same light on Earth is mainly absorbed in the ozone layer in the lower Earth stratosphere. Venus is so dense that light is absorbed by a cloud layer about 45 kilometers or so above the Venusian surface."

Tony Fitzpatrick | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wustl.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA eyes Pineapple Express soaking California

24.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

New gene for atrazine resistance identified in waterhemp

24.02.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

New Mechanisms of Gene Inactivation may prevent Aging and Cancer

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>