Clues on the importance of comets in the origin and evolution of the atmospheres of Titan and Earth

Josep Ma Trigo-Rodriguez, F. Javier Martín-Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Earth and Titan are two planetary bodies formed far from each other. Nevertheless the chemical composition of their atmospheres exhibits common indications of being produced by the accretion, plus ulterior in-situ processing of cometary materials. This is remarkable because while the Earth formed in the inner part of the disk, presumably from the accretion of rocky planetesimals depleted in oxygen and exhibiting a chemical similitude with enstatite chondrites, Titan formed within Saturns sub-nebula from oxygen- and volatile-rich bodies, called cometesimals. From a cosmochemical and astrobiological perspective, the study of the H, C, N, and O isotopes on Earth and Titan could be the key to decipher the processes occurred in the early stages of formation of both planetary bodies. The main goal of this paper is to quantify the presumable ways of chemical evolution of both planetary bodies, in particular the abundance of CO and N 2 in their early atmospheres. In order to do that the primeval atmospheres and evolution of Titan and Earth have been analyzed from a thermodynamic point of view. The most relevant chemical reactions involving these species and presumably important at their early stages are discussed. Then, we have interpreted the results of this study in light of the results obtained by the Cassini-Huygens mission on these species and their isotopes. Given that H, C, N, and O were preferentially depleted from inner disk materials that formed our planet, the observed similitude of their isotopic fractionation, and subsequent close evolution of Earths and Titans atmospheres points towards a cometary origin of Earth atmosphere. Consequently, our scenario also supports the key role of late veneers (comets and water-rich carbonaceous asteroids) enriching the volatile content of the Earth at the time of the late heavy bombardment of terrestrial planets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-9
Number of pages7
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Asteroid
  • Atmospheres
  • Comet
  • D/H ratio
  • Earth
  • Minor bodies
  • Titan
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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