Reanalysis of Uranus' cloud scattering properties from IRTF/SpeX observations using a self-consistent scattering cloud retrieval scheme

P. G J Irwin*, D. S. Tice, L. N. Fletcher, J. K. Barstow, N. A. Teanby, G. S. Orton, G. R. Davis

*Corresponding author for this work

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

18 Citations (Scopus)
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We have developed a new retrieval approach to modelling near-infrared spectra of Uranus that represents a significant improvement over previous modelling methods. We reanalysed IRTF/SpeX observations of Uranus observed in 2009 covering the wavelength range 0.8-1.8. μm and reported by Tice et al. (Tice, D.S., Irwin, P.G.J., Fletcher, L.N., Teanby, N.A., Hurley, J., Orton, G.S., Davis, G.R. [2013]. Icarus 223, 684-698). By retrieving the imaginary refractive index spectra of cloud particles we are able to consistently define the real part of the refractive index spectra, through a Kramers-Kronig analysis, and thus determine self-consistent extinction cross-section, single-scattering and phase-function spectra for the clouds and hazes in Uranus' atmosphere. We tested two different cloud-modelling schemes used in conjunction with the temperature/methane profile of Baines et al. (Baines, K.H., Mickelson, M.E., Larson, L.E., Ferguson, D.W. [1995]. Icarus 114, 328-340), a reanalysis of the Voyager-2 radio-occultation observations performed by Sromovsky, Fry and Kim (Sromovsky, L.A., Fry, P.M., Kim, J.H. [2011]. Icarus 215, 292-312), and a recent determination from Spitzer (Orton, G.S., Fletcher, L.N., Moses, J.I., Mainzer, A.K., Hines, D., Hammel, H.B., Martin-Torres, F.J., Burgdorf, M., Merlet, C., Line, M.R. [2014]. Icarus 243, 494-513). We find that both cloud-modelling schemes represent the observed centre-of-disc spectrum of Uranus well, and both require similar cloud scattering properties of the main cloud residing at ~2. bars. However, a modified version of the Sromovsky, Fry and Kim (2011) model, with revised spectral properties of the lowest cloud layer, fits slightly better at shorter wavelengths and is more consistent with the expected vertical position of Uranus' methane cloud.We find that the bulk of the reflected radiance from Uranus arises from a thick cloud at approximately the 2bar level, composed of particles that are significantly more absorbing at wavelengths λ>1.0μm than they are at shorter wavelengths λ<1.0μm. This spectral information provides a possible constraint on the identity of the main particle type, although we find that the scattering properties required are not consistent with any of the available laboratory data for pure NH3, NH4SH, or CH4 ice (all suspected of condensing in the upper troposphere). It is possible that the observed clouds are mixtures of tropospheric condensate mixed with photochemical products diffusing down from above, which masks their pure scattering features. Because there is no available laboratory data for pure H2S or PH3 ice (both of which might be present as well), they cannot be excluded as the cloud-forming species. We note, however, that their absorptive properties would have to be two orders of magnitude greater than the other measured ices at wavelengths greater than 1μm to be consistent with our retrieval, which suggests that mixing with photochemical products may still be important.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)462-476
Number of pages15
Early online date29 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Uranus, atmosphere
  • Atmospheres, composition
  • Atmospheres, structure
  • Data reduction techniques


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