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Latest Results from NASA Ames’ COSmIC and Optical Constants Facility: Determining Optical Constants for Titan, Pluto and Protoplanetary Disks Applications

Presentation #212.01 in the session “Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD): Planetary Bodies and Exotic Molecules”.

Published onJun 18, 2021
Latest Results from NASA Ames’ COSmIC and Optical Constants Facility: Determining Optical Constants for Titan, Pluto and Protoplanetary Disks Applications

The NASA Ames COsmic SImulation Chamber (COSmIC) is a unique experimental facility that can be used, among many applications, to produce solid particles from gas phase molecular precursors at low temperature (150 K) using a plasma discharge to induce the chemistry in the stream of a free jet expansion. The choice of the initial gas mixture used to produce the solid sample allows the simulation of either cold planetary atmospheres like Titan or Pluto (with N2/CH4-based initial mixtures), or circumstellar environments (with Ar/CxHy-based initial mixtures).

The Ames Optical Constants Facility (OCF) allows the determination of optical constants covering a broad wavelength range with high spectral resolution for solid materials, analogs of organic refractory materials formed in planetary and astrophysical environments. The core of the OCF is a Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer that allows the continuous characterization of solid samples in the visible to far-infrared (FIR) range (0.59-200 μm, 16,950-50 cm−1). Modeling of the laboratory measurements conducted with the OCF allows the determination of accurate optical constants, n and k, over the full vis-FIR range.

Here we present the latest results of two studies that combined (1) experiments performed with COSmIC to produce analogs of aerosols forming in Titan’s atmosphere and analogs of cosmic grains forming in circumstellar envelops, and (2) the characterization of these analogs with the OCF to provide the real and imaginary parts of their refractive indices, n + ik, to the community, from the visible to the FIR. These optical constants can be used as critical input parameters in radiative transfer, atmospheric and reflectance models to interpret observational data of, e.g., Titan’s atmosphere and protoplanetary disks. Providing optical constants for various materials of different compositions allows to explore a broad range of composition by simulating mixtures of materials. We also present a new project to produce analogs of Pluto’s atmospheric aerosols with COSmIC and determine their optical constants with OCF, to be used in reflectance spectra models for the interpretation of New Horizons observations of Lowell Regio, Sputnik Planitia and Cthulhu.


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