Methane as a reddish coating agent

Per Nørnberg, Kai Finster, Jan Thøgersen, Thaddeus W. Golbek, Tobias Weidner, Tue Hassenkam, Walter Goetz, Mathias Oehlke, Svend J. Knak Jensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Experiments in quartz ampoules that simulate the saltation of quartz grains in a methane atmosphere show that the solid phase acquires a reddish color, reminiscent of the color observed on Triton, Pluto, and Charon. Reflection spectroscopy of the coated grains show a wide, continuous absorption spectrum peaking at near-UV wavelengths, in line with the reddish color. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy indicates the grains are coated with a substance containing C–C and C–O bonds, and estimates the average thickness of the surface layer to 2.3 Å. Solid state Raman measurements of the coating shows a transition at 1540 cm−1. A model is proposed to describe these measurements. The model is a polydiene, anchored to the quartz surface. Electron structure calculations show that a polydiene with around 8 CH units reproduces the measurements. AFM-IR experiments support this result. Our findings suggest a pathway for synthesis of complex molecules with C[dbnd]C bonds on planets and moons with a solid surface and a methane-containing atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • Atmospheres
  • Chemistry
  • Prebiotic chemistry
  • Satellites
  • Spectroscopy
  • Surfaces


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  • Mars Simulation Laboratory

    Nørnberg, P. (PI)

    Project: Consultancy

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