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Deep Atmosphere Composition, Structure, Origin, and Exploration, with Particular Focus on Critical in situ Science at the Icy Giants

Status Report From: arXiv.org e-Print archive
Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2020

Sushil K. Atreya, Mark H. Hofstadter, Joong Hyun In, Olivier Mousis, Kim Reh, Michael H. Wong

A comprehensive exploration of Uranus and Neptune is essential to understand the formation and evolution of the giant planets, in particular, solar system, in general, and, by extension, a vast population of exoplanets. Though core accretion is generally favored over gravitational instability as the model of the formation of the gas giants, Jupiter and Saturn, observational constraints are presently lacking to make a compelling case for either in the case of the icy giants. Abundances of the heavy elements with mass exceeding that of helium provide the best constraints to the formation and migration models. For Uranus and Neptune, only the C elemental abundance has been determined from methane measurements, but should be considered as a lower limit considering methane is a condensible gas in the icy giants. Well-mixed water, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide to determine O, N and S elemental abundances, respectively, are too deep to measure by any observation technique. However, a precise measurement of the noble gases, He, Ne, Ar, Kr and Xe, together with their isotopic ratios, would circumvent the need for determining the above elements. Only entry probes are capable of measuring the noble gases, but those measurements can be done at relatively shallow pressure levels of 5-10 bars. Complementary observations from orbiter, especially the interior (gravity and magnetic field) and depth profiles of water and ammonia, would greatly enhance the data set for constraining the formation models. No new technology is required to carry out an orbiter-probe mission to either Uranus or Neptune in the next decade.

Comments: 31 pages, 16 figures, 4 tables

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

Journal reference: Space Science Reviews 2020

DOI: 10.1007/s11214-020-0640-8

Cite as: arXiv:2006.13869 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2006.13869v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history

From: Sushil Atreya 

[v1] Wed, 24 Jun 2020 16:51:38 UTC (5,750 KB)

https://arxiv.org/abs/2006.13869


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