Vacuum ultraviolet photoabsorption spectroscopy of space-related ices: 1 keV electron irradiation of nitrogen- and oxygen-rich ices

Ioppolo, S.; Kaňuchová, Z.; James, R. L.; Dawes, A.; Jones, N. C.; Hoffmann, S. V.; Mason, N. J. and Strazzulla, G. (2020). Vacuum ultraviolet photoabsorption spectroscopy of space-related ices: 1 keV electron irradiation of nitrogen- and oxygen-rich ices. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 641, article no. A154.



Context. Molecular oxygen, nitrogen, and ozone have been detected on some satellites of Saturn and Jupiter, as well as on comets. They are also expected to be present in ice-grain mantles within star-forming regions. The continuous energetic processing of icy objects in the Solar System induces physical and chemical changes within the ice. Laboratory experiments that simulate energetic processing (ions, photons, and electrons) of ices are therefore essential for interpreting and directing future astronomical observations.
Aims. We provide vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) photoabsorption spectroscopic data of energetically processed nitrogen- and oxygen-rich ices that will help to identify absorption bands and/or spectral slopes observed on icy objects in the Solar System and on ice-grain mantles of the interstellar medium.
Methods. We present VUV photoabsorption spectra of frozen O2 and N2, a 1:1 mixture of both, and a new systematic set of pure and mixed nitrogen oxide ices. Spectra were obtained at 22 K before and after 1 keV electron bombardment of the ice sample. Ices were then annealed to higher temperatures to study their thermal evolution. In addition, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy was used as a secondary probe of molecular synthesis to better identify the physical and chemical processes at play.
Results. Our VUV data show that ozone and the azide radical (N3) are observed in our experiments after electron irradiation of pure O2 and N2 ices, respectively. Energetic processing of an O2:N2 = 1:1 ice mixture leads to the formation of ozone along with a series of nitrogen oxides. The electron irradiation of solid nitrogen oxides, pure and in mixtures, induces the formation of new species such as O2, N2, and other nitrogen oxides not present in the initial ice. Results are discussed here in light of their relevance to various astrophysical environments. Finally, we show that VUV spectra of solid NO2 and water can reproduce the observational VUV profile of the cold surface of Enceladus, Dione, and Rhea, strongly suggesting the presence of nitrogen oxides on the surface of the icy Saturn moons.

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