The UV signature of carbon in the solar system.

Hendrix, A. R., Vilas, F. and Li, J.-Y.

Meteoritics & Planetary Science. doi: 10.1111/maps.12575


“Carbon compounds are ubiquitous in the solar system but are challenging to study using remote sensing due to the mostly bland spectral nature of these species in the traditional visible-near-infrared regime. In contrast, carbonaceous species are spectrally active in the ultraviolet (UV) but have largely not been considered for studies of solar system surfaces. We compile existing UV data of carbon compounds—well-studied in contemplation of the ISM extinction “bump”—to review trends in UV spectral behavior. Thermal and/or irradiation processing of carbon species results in the loss of H and ultimately graphitization. Graphitization is shown to produce distinct spectral features in the UV, which are predicted to be more readily detected in the inner solar system, whereas outer solar system bodies are expected to be more dominated by less-processed carbon compounds. Throughout the solar system, we can thus consider a “carbon continuum” where the more evolved carbons in the inner solar system exhibit a stronger UV absorption feature and associated far-UV rise. We compare carbon spectral models with spacecraft data of two bodies from different points in the carbon continuum, Ceres and Iapetus. We find that the apparent strong far-UV upturn in Ceres’ spectrum (in the 150–200 nm range) can be explained by an anthracite-like species while Iapetus’ spectrum features a reflectance peak consistent with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. We make generalized predictions for UV spectral characteristics in other regions of the solar system.”