Solar control of the upper atmosphere of Triton

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Science  10 Apr 1992:
Vol. 256, Issue 5054, pp. 204-206
DOI: 10.1126/science.11540928


If the upper atmosphere and ionosphere of Triton are controlled by precipitation of electrons from Neptune's magnetosphere as previously proposed, Triton could have the only ionosphere in the solar system not controlled by solar radiation. However, a new model of Triton's atmosphere, in which only solar radiation is present, predicts a large column of carbon atoms. With an assumed, but reasonable, rate of charge transfer between N2(+) and C, a peak C+ abundance results that is close to the peak electron densities measured by Voyager in Triton's ionosphere. These results suggest that Triton's upper atmospheric chemistry may thus be solar-controlled. Measurement of key reaction rate constants, currently unknown or highly uncertain at Triton's low temperatures, would help to clarify the chemical and physical processes occurring in Triton's atmosphere.