Methane, Carbon Monoxide, and Ammonia in Brown Dwarfs and Self-Luminous Giant Planets

By Keith Cowing
August 28, 2014
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Methane, Carbon Monoxide, and Ammonia in Brown Dwarfs and Self-Luminous Giant Planets

We address disequilibrum abundances of some simple molecules in the atmospheres of solar composition brown dwarfs and self-luminous extrasolar giant planets using a kinetics-based 1D atmospheric chemistry model.

We employ cloudless atmospheres of approximately solar metallicity. Our approach is to use the complete model to survey the parameter space with effective temperatures between 500 K and 1100 K. In all of these worlds equilibrium chemistry favors CH4 over CO in the parts of the atmosphere that can be seen from Earth. Small surface gravity of planets strongly discriminates against CH4 when compared to an otherwise comparable brown dwarf.

If vertical mixing is comparable to Jupiter’s, methane becomes more abundant than CO in Jupiter-mass planets cooler than 500 K. Sluggish vertical mixing can raise this threshold to 600 K; but clouds or more vigorous vertical mixing could lower this threshold to 400 K. The comparable threshold in brown dwarfs is 1100 K. Ammonia is also sensitive to gravity, but unlike CH4/CO, the NH3/N2 ratio is insensitive to mixing, which makes NH3 a potential proxy for gravity.

HCN may become interesting in high gravity brown dwarfs with very strong vertical mixing. Detailed analysis of the CO-CH4 reaction network reveals that the bottleneck to CO hydrogenation goes through methanol, in partial agreement with previous work. Simple, easy to use quenching relations are derived by fitting to the complete chemistry of the full ensemble of models. These relations are valid for determining CO, CH4, NH3, HCN, and CO2 abundances in the range of self-luminous worlds we have studied but may not apply if atmospheres are strongly heated at high altitudes by processes not considered here (e.g., wave breaking).

Kevin J. Zahnle, Mark S. Marley (Submitted on 26 Aug 2014)

Comments: Submitted to ApJ, June 26, 2014

Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)

Cite as: arXiv:1408.6283 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1408.6283v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

Submission history From: Mark S. Marley [v1] Tue, 26 Aug 2014 23:48:26 GMT (909kb,D)

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