Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Understanding oxygen incorporation into planetary atmospheric aerosols

Measurements of Titan’s atmosphere from the Cassini-Huygens Mission indicate that our understanding of complex organic chemistry and aerosol formation in planetary atmospheres is still in its infancy. Complex organic aerosols are important both for the radiative balance in an atmosphere and as a potential source of biologically interesting molecules, both of which have implications for the habitability of planets. Due to the limitations of in situ measurements of planetary aerosols, and in particular the impossibility of in situ measurements in the cases of the atmospheres of the early Earth and extrasolar planets, laboratory experiments provide a necessary bridge between theoretical models of planetary atmospheres and the reality of their observed properties. The observed compositions of extrasolar planet atmospheres, and the poorly constrained composition of early Earth’s atmosphere, indicate that laboratory experiments need to investigate organic molecule and aerosol production for a broader range of gaseous compositions than previously considered. In particular, I am interested in investigating the effect that oxygen (CO, CO2, H2O) has on aerosol formation and composition. The aim is to improve our understanding of the range of planetary atmospheres where aerosols may form and increase our understanding of how oxygen is incorporated into organic molecules, which may have implications for the origin of life.

Research Group


Sarah Hörst