Blistering and explosive desorption of irradiated ammonia-water mixtures

M. J. Loeffler, R. A. Baragiola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We present laboratory studies on the thermal evolution of a solid ammonia-water mixture after it has been irradiated at 20, 70, and 120K. In samples irradiated at ≤70K, we observed fast outbursts that appear to indicate grain ejection and correlate well with the formation of micron-sized scattering centers. The occurrence of this phenomenon at the lower irradiation temperatures indicates that our results may be most relevant for understanding the release of gas and grains by comets and the surfaces of some of the colder icy satellites. We observe outgassing at temperatures below those where ice sublimates, which suggests that comets containing radiolyzed material may have outbursts farther from the Sun that those that are passive. In addition, the estimated size of the grains ejected from our sample is on the order of the size of E-ring particles, suggesting that our results give a plausible mechanism for how micron-sized grains could be formed from an icy surface. Finally, we propose that the presence of the 4.5 μm N2O absorption band on an icy surface in outer space will serve to provide indirect evidence for radiation-processed ices that originally contained ammonia or nitrogen, which could be particularly useful since nitrogen is such a weak absorber in the infrared and ammonia is rapidly decomposed by radiolysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 10 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • ISM: general
  • astrochemistry
  • comets: general
  • methods: laboratory
  • planets and satellites: surfaces
  • radiation mechanisms: general
  • techniques: spectroscopic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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