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Interaction dust – plasma in Titan's ionosphere: An experimental simulation of aerosols erosion

Abstract : Organic aerosols accumulated in Titan's orange haze start forming in its ionosphere. This upper part of the atmosphere is highly reactive and complex ion chemistry takes place at altitudes from 1200 to 900 km. The ionosphere is a nitrogen plasma with a few percent of methane and hydrogen. Carbon from methane enables the formation of macromolecules with long organic chains, finally leading to the organic aerosols. On the other hand, we suspect that hydrogen and the protonated ions have a different erosive effect on the aerosols.Here we experimentally studied the effect of hydrogen and protonated species on organic aerosols. Analogues of Titan's aerosols were formed in a radiofrequency capacitively coupled plasma (RF CCP) discharge in 95% N2 and 5% CH4. Thereafter, the aerosols were exposed to a DC plasma in 99% N2 and 1% H2. Samples were analysed by scanning electron microscopy and in situ infrared transmission spectroscopy. Two pellet techniques – KBr pressed pellets and thin metallic grids - were compared to confirm that modifications seen are not due to the material used to make the pellet.We observed that the spherical aerosols of ~500 nm in diameter were eroded under N2-H2 plasma exposure, with the formation of holes of ~10 nm at their surface. Aerosols were globally removed from the pellet by the plasma. IR spectra showed a faster disappearance of isonitriles and/or carbo-diimides compared to the global band of nitriles. The opposite effect was seen with β-unsaturated nitriles and/or cyanamides. Double bonds as CC and CN were more affected than amines and CH bonds. NH and CH absorption bands kept a similar ratio in intensity and their shape did not vary.Therefore, it seems that carbon and hydrogen play opposite roles in Titan's ionosphere: the carbon from methane leads to organic growth while hydrogen and protonated species erode the aerosols and react preferentially with unsaturated chemical functions.
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Audrey Chatain, Nathalie Carrasco, N. Ruscassier, Thomas Gautier, Ludovic Vettier, et al.. Interaction dust – plasma in Titan's ionosphere: An experimental simulation of aerosols erosion. Icarus, Elsevier, 2020, 345, pp.113741. ⟨10.1016/j.icarus.2020.113741⟩. ⟨insu-02506044⟩

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