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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Measurements of isotope effects in the photoionization of N2 and implications for Titan's atmosphere


Isotope effects in the non-dissociative photoionization of molecular nitrogen (N2 + h nu -> N2+ + e-) may play a role in determining the relative abundances of isotopic species containing nitrogen in interstellar clouds and planetary atmospheres but have not been previously measured. Measurements of the photoionization efficiency spectra of 14N2, 15N14N, and 15N2 from 15.5 to 18.9 eV (65.6-80.0 nm) using the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory show large differences in peak energies and intensities, with the ratio of the energy-dependent photoionization cross-sections, sigma(14N2)/sigma(15N14N), ranging from 0.4 to 3.5. Convolving the cross-sections with the solar flux and integrating over the energies measured, the ratios of photoionization rate coefficients are J(15N14N)/J(14N2)=1.00+-0.02 and J(15N2)/J(14N2)=1.00+-0.02, suggesting that isotopic fractionation between N2 and N2+ should be small under such conditions. In contrast, in a one-dimensional model of Titan's atmosphere, isotopic self-shielding of 14N2 leads to values of J(15N14N)/J(14N2) as large as ~;;1.17, larger than under optically thin conditions but still much smaller than values as high as ~;;29 predicted for N2 photodissociation. Since modeled photodissociation isotope effects overpredict the HC15N/HC14N ratio in Titan's atmosphere, and since both N atoms and N2+ ions may ultimately lead to the formation of HCN, estimates of the potential of including N2 photoionization to contribute to a more quantitative explanation of 15N/14N for HCN in Titan's atmosphere are explored.

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