Thermal effects of insolation propagation into the regoliths of airless bodies

Robert Hamilton Brown, Dennis L. Matson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


We have investigated thermal models for planetary surfaces composed of particles that are bright and optically thin in the visual, and dark and opaque in the thermal infrared. The models incorporate the assumption that insolation is absorbed over a finite distance in the regolith, predicting lower daytime and higher nighttime temperatures than those predicted if the insolation were a absorbed only at the surface. The magnitude of the effect depends on the scale length for absorption of insolation relative to the diurnal skin depth for thermal diffusion, and can be significant when insolation penetrates to a depth comparable to the diurnal skin depth. In particular, for bodies like Enceladus and Europa, the maximum daytime temperature depression and nighttime temperature elevation can be 10°K or more for penetration-depth scales ∼ 1.5 cm. If insolation penetrates deeply enough into a surface, and the thermal-infrared opacity of its constituent particles is very high (e.g., in a regolith composed of particles of water ice), a solid-state greenhouse can result! This has important implications for geophysical models of high-albedo, icy bodies because actual boundary-layer temperatures may in fact be significantly higher than those assumed in previous studies, making it easier to melt the interiors of such bodies. Another important implication of the models is that where insolation- penetration is significant, thermal inertias inferred from models that do not allow for this effect will be upper limits to the real thermal inertia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-94
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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