Distribution of CO2 ice on the large moons of Uranus and evidence for compositional stratification of their near-surfaces

R. J. Cartwright, J. P. Emery, A. S. Rivkin, D. E. Trilling, N. Pinilla-Alonso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The surfaces of the large uranian satellites are characterized by a mixture of H2O ice and a dark, potentially carbon-rich, constituent, along with CO2 ice. At the mean heliocentric distance of the uranian system, native CO2 ice should be removed on timescales shorter than the age of the Solar System. Consequently, the detected CO2 ice might be actively produced. Analogous to irradiation of icy moons in the Jupiter and Saturn systems, we hypothesize that charged particles caught in Uranus' magnetic field bombard the surfaces of the uranian satellites, driving a radiolytic CO2 production cycle. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the distribution of CO2 ice by analyzing near-infrared (NIR) spectra of these moons, gathered using the SpeX spectrograph at NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) (2000-2013). Additionally, we made spectrophotometric measurements using images gathered by the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) onboard the Spitzer Space Telescope (2003-2005). We find that the detected CO2 ice is primarily on the trailing hemispheres of the satellites closest to Uranus, consistent with other observations of these moons. Our band parameter analysis indicates that the detected CO2 ice is pure and segregated from other constituents. Our spectrophotometric analysis indicates that IRAC is not sensitive to the CO2 ice detected by SpeX, potentially because CO2 is retained beneath a thin surface layer dominated by H2O ice that is opaque to photons over IRAC wavelengths. Thus, our combined SpeX and IRAC analyses suggest that the near-surfaces (i.e., top few 100μm) of the uranian satellites are compositionally stratified. We briefly compare the spectral characteristics of the CO2 ice detected on the uranian moons to icy satellites elsewhere, and we also consider the most likely drivers of the observed distribution of CO2 ice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-456
Number of pages29
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Infrared observations
  • Satellites, composition
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Spectroscopy
  • Uranus, satellites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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