Neptune's carbon monoxide profile and phosphine upper limits from Herschel/SPIRE: Implications for interior structure and formation

N. A. Teanby*, P. G.J. Irwin, J. I. Moses

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
263 Downloads (Pure)


On Neptune, carbon monoxide and phosphine are disequilibrium species, and their abundance profiles can provide insights into interior processes and the external space environment. Here we use Herschel/SPIRE (Spectral and Photometric Imaging REceiver) observations from 14.9–51.5 cm-1 to obtain abundances from multiple CO and PH3 spectral features. For CO, we find that nine CO bands can be simultaneously fitted using a step profile with a 0.22 ppm tropospheric abundance, a 1.03 ppm stratospheric abundance, and a step transition pressure of 0.11 bar near the tropopause. This is in broad agreement with previous studies. However, we also find that the CO spectral features could be fitted, to well within measurement errors, with a profile that contains no tropospheric CO for pressure levels deeper than 0.5 bar, which is our preferred interpretation. This differs from previous studies that have assumed CO is well mixed throughout the troposphere, which would require an internal CO source to explain and a high O/H enrichment. Our interpretation removes the requirement for extreme interior O/H enrichment in thermochemical models and can finally reconcile D/H and CO measurements. If true, the lack of lower tropospheric CO would imply a decrease in Neptune's interior water content, favouring a silicate-rich instead of an ice-rich interior. This would be consistent with a protoplanetary ice source with a similar D/H ratio to the current solar system comet population. The upper tropospheric and stratospheric CO at pressures less than 0.5 bar could then be entirely externally sourced from a giant impact as suggested by Lellouch et al.(2005). We also derive a 3-σ upper limit for PH3 of 1.1 ppb at 0.4–0.8 bar. This is the most stringent upper limit to-date and is entirely consistent with predictions from a simple photochemical model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
Early online date13 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Atmosphere
  • Composition
  • Interior
  • Neptune
  • Sub-millimetre


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