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The nitrogen cycles on Pluto over seasonal and astronomical timescales

Status Report From: arXiv.org e-Print archive
Posted: Monday, April 9, 2018

T. Bertrand, F. Forget, O. M. Umurhan, W.M. Grundy, B. Schmitt, S. Protopapa, A.M. Zangari, O.L. White, P.M. Schenk, K.N. Singer, A. Stern, H.A. Weaver, L.A. Young, K. Ennico, C.B. Olkin, the New Horizons Science Team
(Submitted on 6 Apr 2018)

Pluto's landscape is shaped by the cycles of the volatile ices covering its surface. In particular, the Sputnik Planitia (SP) ice sheet displays a large diversity of terrains, with bright and dark plains, pits, topographic depressions and evidences of recent and past glacial flows. Outside SP, New Horizons also revealed numerous N2 ice deposits, in Tombaugh Regio and at mid-northern latitudes. These observations suggest a complex history involving volatile and glacial processes on different timescales. We present numerical simulations of volatile transport on Pluto performed with a model able to simulate the N2 cycle over millions of years (Myrs), taking into account the changes of obliquity and orbital parameters as experienced by Pluto. Results show that over one obliquity cycle, the latitudes of SP between 25{\deg}S-30{\deg}N are dominated by N2 condensation, while the latitudes between 30-50{\deg}N are dominated by N2 sublimation. We find that a net amount of 1 km of ice has sublimed at the northern edge of SP during the last 2 Myrs. By comparing these results with the observed geology of SP, we can relate the formation of the pits and the brightness of the ice to the ice flux occurring at the annual timescale, while the glacial flows at its eastern edge and the erosion of the water ice mountains all around the ice sheet are related to the astronomical timescale. We also perform simulations with a glacial flow scheme which shows that SP is currently at its minimum extent. We also explore the stability of N2 ice outside SP. Results show that it is not stable at the poles but rather in the equatorial regions, in particular in depressions, where thick deposits may persist over tens of Myrs, before being trapped in SP. Finally, another key result is that the minimum and maximum surface pressures obtained over the simulated Myrs remain in the range of mm-Pa and Pa, respectively.

Comments:    49 pages, 16 figures
Subjects:    Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Cite as:    arXiv:1804.02434 [astro-ph.EP]    (or arXiv:1804.02434v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Tanguy Bertrand  
[v1] Fri, 6 Apr 2018 19:30:09 GMT (7047kb,D)
https://arxiv.org/abs/1804.02434

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