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Hydrocarbon chemistry in the atmospheres of Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets

Hydrocarbon chemistry in the atmospheres of Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Bilger. Originally submitted for Astronomy and Astrophysics at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Christiane Helling in the category of Mathematical & Physical Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Bilger. Originally submitted for Astronomy and Astrophysics at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Christiane Helling in the category of Mathematical & Physical Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Hydrocarbon chemistry in the atmospheres of Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets
Word count
10250
 
Abstract
Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets are both oxygen-rich environments; as a result, hydrocarbonequilibrium chemistry is not
a priori 
expected. In this work are presented the first calculations of equilibrium abundances profiles of hydrocarbon molecules and other complex carbon-bearing mo
 
lecules in oxygen-rich substellar atmospheres.In these dusty atmospheres, condensation sequesters metal elements inside the dust clouds (O, Mg,Si, Fe, Al, Ti,). I explore the impact that dust formation has on gas-phase carbon chemistry, fora variety of Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets, by assembling the chemical equilibrium of 
199
gas-phase species,
33
of which are complex carbon-bearing molecules.The
Drift-Phoenix
atmospheric structures employed in this work provided the input parametersto this study: the local gas temperature, the local total gas number density and the metal-depletedelemental composition inside the cloud layer. By indirectly including non-equilibrium processes byuse of the
Drift-Phoenix
data - element depletion and rain out of the dust grains - one employstherefore a true elemental composition within the dust clouds. In the rest of the atmosphere, Iassume aGrevesse et al.(
) solar composition. My reference model is a giant gas planet withT
e
ff 
=
1500
K, log(g)
= 3
.
0
and solar element abundances. The stellar parameters are then variedaccording to:
T
e
ff 
= (1500 K
,
2000 K)
,
log(g) = (3
.
0
,
5
.
0)
and [M/H]
= (0
.
0
,
3
.
0)
.Due to oxygen-depletion by dust formation, the C/O ratio shifts from
0
.
5
to
0
.
7
, hence potentiallypermitting more carbon-bearing molecules to form. In the framework of my models, I confirm thatthe conditions for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) formation are not met. This result isindependent of the model. On the other hand, the results show that several hydrocarbon moleculesand cyanopolyne molecules form in appreciable abundances. Some hydrocarbons are more favouredat low gas temperatures and others at higher temperatures. An increase in surface gravity yieldsi
 
ii
Contents 
an increase in the partial pressures of the species. In the outer atmosphere of some objects, morecarbon is contained in
C
4
H
than in
CO
which is commonly the dominant carbon-bearing gas inthese objects.The subsequent study of non-equilibrium chemistry, in the context of substellar objects, requiresparticular attention. A deviation from local equilibrium can for example be induced by a light
 
ning event. Local intra-cloud discharge events are believed to occur in extraterrestrial atmospheres(Helling et al.,
), triggered by charged dust grains, but lightning chemistry has never beenstudied in the context of Brown Dwarfs. The chemical equilibrium routine was run to produce num
 
ber densities of the individual gas-phase molecules inside a lightning channel, across a temperaturecooling sequence. The oxygen-bearing molecules incurred a decrease in their abundances while somehydrocarbons and cyanopolyne molecules were produced in greater amounts. Methane was almostcompletely destroyed.Cold Brown Dwarfs and giant gas planets like Gliese
229
B also show local chemical non-equilibriacaused by a rapid convective up-mixing of hot gases from deeper atmospheric layers (e.g.Visscher& Moses(
)). The present study of thermochemical hydrocarbon kinetics is a first approach todisequilibrium hydrocarbon chemistry.
Keywords:
chemical equilibrium - molecular abundances - substellar atmospheres - kinetics- lightning chemistry

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