Publication archive

Publication archive

In August 2009 the Sun illuminated Saturn's rings from almost exactly edge-on, revealing a subtle corrugation that extends across the entire C ring. This corrugation's amplitude is 2 to 20 meters and its wavelength is 30 to 80 kilometers. Radial trends in the corrugation's wavelength indicate that this structure - like a similar corrugation previously identified in the D ring - results from differential nodal regression within a ring that became tilted relative to Saturn's equator plane in 1983. We suggest that this initial tilt arose because interplanetary debris struck the rings. The corrugation's radial extent implies that the impacting material was a dispersed cloud of debris instead of a single object, and the corrugation's amplitude indicates that the debris' total mass was ~1011 to 1013 kilograms.
Published: 07 May 2011
Although there are substantial differences between the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, it has been suggested that cryovolcanic activity at Enceladus could lead to electrodynamic coupling between Enceladus and Saturn like that which links Jupiter with Io, Europa and Ganymede. Powerful field-aligned electron beams associated with the Io-Jupiter coupling, for example, create an auroral footprint in Jupiter's ionosphere. Auroral ultraviolet emission associated with Enceladus-Saturn coupling is anticipated to be just a few tenths of a kilorayleigh, about an order of magnitude dimmer than Io's footprint and below the observable threshold, consistent with its non-detection. Here we report the detection of magnetic-field-aligned ion and electron beams (offset several moon radii downstream from Enceladus) with sufficient power to stimulate detectable aurora, and the subsequent discovery of Enceladus-associated aurora in a few per cent of the scans of the moon's footprint. The footprint varies in emission magnitude more than can plausibly be explained by changes in magnetospheric parameters - and as such is probably indicative of variable plume activity.
Published: 22 April 2011

Although there are substantial differences between the magnetospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, it has been suggested that cryovolcanic activity at Enceladus could lead to electrodynamic coupling between Enceladus and Saturn like that which links Jupiter with Io, Europa and Ganymede.

Powerful field-aligned electron beams associated with the Io-Jupiter coupling, for example, create an auroral footprint in Jupiter's ionosphere. Auroral ultraviolet emission associated with Enceladus-Saturn coupling is anticipated to be just a few tenths of a kilorayleigh, about an order of magnitude dimmer than Io's footprint and below the observable threshold, consistent with its non-detection.

Here we report the detection of magnetic-field-aligned ion and electron beams (offset several moon radii downstream from Enceladus) with sufficient power to stimulate detectable aurora, and the subsequent discovery of Enceladus-associated aurora in a few per cent of the scans of the moon's footprint. The footprint varies in emission magnitude more than can plausibly be explained by changes in magnetospheric parameters' and as such is probably indicative of variable plume activity.

Published: 22 April 2011

Saturn's moon Titan has a massive atmosphere laden with layers of photochemical haze. We report a recent dramatic change in the vertical structure of this haze, with a persistent 'detached' layer dropping in altitude from over 500 km to only 380 km between 2007 and 2010. The detached haze layer appears to be a well-defined tracer for Titan's meridional stratospheric circulation, models of which suggest that a pole-to-pole meridional cell weakens during equinox as solar heating becomes more symmetric. These measurements connect the Cassini observations with those made by Voyager almost one seasonal cycle earlier. They place detailed constraints on the seasonal circulation, on the sources of photochemical aerosols, on the microphysical processes and on the complex interplay of these components.

Published: 01 April 2011
Although there is evidence that liquids have flowed on the surface at Titan's equator in the past, to date, liquids have only been confirmed on the surface at polar latitudes, and the vast expanses of dunes that dominate Titan's equatorial regions require a predominantly arid climate. We report the detection by Cassini's Imaging Science Subsystem of a large low-latitude cloud system early in Titan's northern spring and extensive surface changes (spanning more than 500,000 square kilometers) in the wake of this storm. The changes are most consistent with widespread methane rainfall reaching the surface, which suggests that the dry channels observed at Titan's low latitudes are carved by seasonal precipitation.
Published: 18 March 2011
Although there is evidence that liquids have flowed on the surface at Titan's equator in the past, to date, liquids have only been confirmed on the surface at polar latitudes, and the vast expanses of dunes that dominate Titan's equatorial regions require a predominantly arid climate. We report the detection by Cassini's Imaging Science Subsystem of a large low-latitude cloud system early in Titan's northern spring and extensive surface changes (spanning more than 500,000 square kilometers) in the wake of this storm. The changes are most consistent with widespread methane rainfall reaching the surface, which suggests that the dry channels observed at Titan's low latitudes are carved by seasonal precipitation.
Published: 18 March 2011
The flyby measurements of the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn's moon Rhea reveal a tenuous oxygen-carbon dioxide atmosphere. The atmosphere appears to be sustained by chemical decomposition of the surface water ice under irradiation from Saturn's magnetospheric plasma. This in situ detection of an oxidizing atmosphere is consistent with remote observations of other icy bodies such as Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede, and suggestive of a reservoir of radiolytic O2 locked within Rhea's ice. The presence of CO2 suggests radiolysis reactions between surface oxidants and organics, or sputtering and/or outgassing of CO2 endogenic to Rhea's ice. Observations of outflowing positive and negative ions give evidence for pickup ionization as a major atmospheric loss mechanism.
Published: 26 November 2010
The Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 30 June 2004, yielding a wealth of data about the Saturn system. This review focuses on the atmosphere and magnetosphere and briefly outlines the state of our knowledge after the Cassini prime mission. The mission has addressed a host of fundamental questions: What processes control the physics, chemistry, and dynamics of the atmosphere? Where does the magnetospheric plasma come from? What are the physical processes coupling the ionosphere and magnetosphere? And, what are the rotation rates of Saturn's atmosphere and magnetosphere?
Published: 19 March 2010
We review our understanding of Saturn's rings after nearly 6 years of observations by the Cassini spacecraft. Saturn's rings are composed mostly of water ice but also contain an undetermined reddish contaminant. The rings exhibit a range of structure across many spatial scales; some of this involves the interplay of the fluid nature and the self-gravity of innumerable orbiting centimeter- to meter-sized particles, and the effects of several peripheral and embedded moonlets, but much remains unexplained. A few aspects of ring structure change on time scales as short as days. It remains unclear whether the vigorous evolutionary processes to which the rings are subject imply a much younger age than that of the solar system. Processes on view at Saturn have parallels in circumstellar disks.
Published: 19 March 2010
Precise radio tracking of the spacecraft Cassini has provided a determination of Titan's mass and gravity harmonics to degree 3. The quadrupole field is consistent with a hydrostatically relaxed body shaped by tidal and rotational effects. The inferred moment of inertia factor is about 0.34, implying incomplete differentiation, either in the sense of imperfect separation of rock from ice or a core in which a large amount of water remains chemically bound in silicates. The equilibrium figure is a triaxial ellipsoid whose semi-axes a, b, and c differ by 410 meters (a - c) and 103 meters (b - c). The nonhydrostatic geoid height variations (up to 19 meters) are small compared to the observed topographic anomalies of hundreds of meters, suggesting a high degree of compensation appropriate to a body that has warm ice at depth.
Published: 12 March 2010
Since 2004, Saturn's moon Iapetus has been observed repeatedly with the Imaging Science Subsystem of the Cassini spacecraft. The images show numerous impact craters down to the resolution limit of ~10 meters per pixel. Small, bright craters within the dark hemisphere indicate a dark blanket thickness on the order of meters or less. Dark, equator-facing and bright, poleward-facing crater walls suggest temperature-driven water-ice sublimation as the process responsible for local albedo patterns. Imaging data also reveal a global color dichotomy, wherein both dark and bright materials on the leading side have a substantially redder color than the respective trailing-side materials. This global pattern indicates an exogenic origin for the redder leading-side parts and suggests that the global color dichotomy initiated the thermal formation of the global albedo dichotomy.
Published: 22 January 2010
The extreme albedo asymmetry of Saturn's moon Iapetus, which is about 10 times as bright on its trailing hemisphere as on its leading hemisphere, has been an enigma for three centuries. Deposition of exogenic dark material on the leading side has been proposed as a cause, but this alone cannot explain the global shape, sharpness, and complexity of the transition between Iapetus' bright and dark terrain. We demonstrate that all these characteristics, and the asymmetry's large amplitude, can be plausibly explained by runaway global thermal migration of water ice, triggered by the deposition of dark material on the leading hemisphere. This mechanism is unique to Iapetus among the saturnian satellites because its slow rotation produces unusually high daytime temperatures and water ice sublimation rates for a given albedo.
Published: 22 January 2010
We report an all-sky image of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) >6 kilo-electron volts produced by energetic protons occupying the region (heliosheath) between the boundary of the extended solar atmosphere and the local interstellar medium (LISM). The map obtained by the Ion and Neutral Camera (INCA) onboard Cassini reveals a broad belt of energetic protons whose nonthermal pressure is comparable to that of the local interstellar magnetic field. The belt, centered at ~260° ecliptic longitude extending from north to south and looping back through ~80°, appears to be ordered by the local interstellar magnetic field. The shape revealed by the ENA image does not conform to current models, wherein the heliosphere resembles a cometlike figure aligned in the direction of Sun's travel through the LISM.
Published: 13 November 2009
Methane clouds, lakes and most fluvial features on Saturn's moon Titan have been observed in the moist high latitudes, while the tropics have been nearly devoid of convective clouds and have shown an abundance of wind-carved surface features like dunes. The presence of small-scale channels and dry riverbeds near the equator observed by the Huygens probe at latitudes thought incapable of supporting convection (and thus strong rain) has been suggested to be due to geological seepage or other mechanisms not related to precipitation. Here we report the presence of bright, transient, tropospheric clouds in tropical latitudes. We find that the initial pulse of cloud activity generated planetary waves that instigated cloud activity at other latitudes across Titan that had been cloud-free for at least several years. These observations show that convective pulses at one latitude can trigger short-term convection at other latitudes, even those not generally considered capable of supporting convection, and may also explain the presence of methane-carved rivers and channels near the Huygens landing site.
Published: 14 August 2009
The rotation period of a gas giant's magnetic field (called the System III reference frame) is commonly used to infer its bulk rotation. Saturn's dipole magnetic field is not tilted relative to its rotation axis (unlike Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune), so the surrogate measure of its long-wavelength (kilometric) radiation is currently used to fix the System III rotation period. The period as measured now by the Cassini spacecraft is up to ~7 min longer than the value of 10 h 39 min 24 s measured 28 years ago by Voyager. Here we report a determination of Saturn's rotation period based on an analysis of potential vorticity. The resulting reference frame (which we call System IIIw) rotates with a period of 10 h 34 min 13 +/- 20 s. This shifted reference frame is consistent with a pattern of alternating jets on Saturn that is more symmetrical between eastward and westward flow. This suggests that Saturn's winds are much more like those of Jupiter than hitherto believed.
Published: 31 July 2009
Jets of water ice from surface fractures near the south pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus produce a plume of gas and particles. The source of the jets may be a liquid water region under the ice shell - as suggested most recently by the discovery of salts in E-ring particles derived from the plume - or warm ice that is heated, causing dissociation of clathrate hydrates. Here we report that ammonia is present in the plume, along with various organic compounds, deuterium and, very probably, 40Ar. The presence of ammonia provides strong evidence for the existence of at least some liquid water, given that temperatures in excess of 180 K have been measured near the fractures from which the jets emanate. We conclude, from the overall composition of the material, that the plume derives from both a liquid reservoir (or from ice that in recent geological time has been in contact with such a reservoir) as well as from degassing, volatile-charged ice.
Published: 24 July 2009
Saturn's moon Enceladus emits plumes of water vapour and ice particles from fractures near its south pole, suggesting the possibility of a subsurface ocean. These plume particles are the dominant source of Saturn's E ring. A previous in situ analysis of these particles concluded that the minor organic or siliceous components, identified in many ice grains, could be evidence for interaction between Enceladus' rocky core and liquid water. It was not clear, however, whether the liquid is still present today or whether it has frozen. Here we report the identification of a population of E-ring grains that are rich in sodium salts (0.5-2% by mass), which can arise only if the plumes originate from liquid water. The abundance of various salt components in these particles, as well as the inferred basic pH, exhibit a compelling similarity to the predicted composition of a subsurface Enceladus ocean in contact with its rock core. The plume vapour is expected to be free of atomic sodium. Thus, the absence of sodium from optical spectra is in good agreement with our results. In the E ring the upper limit for spectroscopy is insufficiently sensitive to detect the concentrations we found.
Published: 26 June 2009
Clouds on Titan result from the condensation of methane and ethane and, as on other planets, are primarily structured by circulation of the atmosphere. At present, cloud activity mainly occurs in the southern (summer) hemisphere, arising near the pole and at mid-latitudes from cumulus updrafts triggered by surface heating and/or local methane sources, and at the north (winter) pole, resulting from the subsidence and condensation of ethane-rich air into the colder troposphere. General circulation models predict that this distribution should change with the seasons on a 15-year timescale, and that clouds should develop under certain circumstances at temperate latitudes (40°) in the winter hemisphere. The models, however, have hitherto been poorly constrained and their long-term predictions have not yet been observationally verified. Here we report that the global spatial cloud coverage on Titan is in general agreement with the models, confirming that cloud activity is mainly controlled by the global circulation. The non-detection of clouds at latitude 40° N and the persistence of the southern clouds while the southern summer is ending are, however, both contrary to predictions. This suggests that Titan's equator-to-pole thermal contrast is overestimated in the models and that its atmosphere responds to the seasonal forcing with a greater inertia than expected.
Published: 05 June 2009
Cassini observations show that Saturn's moon Titan is slightly oblate. A fourth-order spherical harmonic expansion yields north polar, south polar, and mean equatorial radii of 2574.32 +- 0.05 kilometers (km), 2574.36 +- 0.03 km, and 2574.91 +- 0.11 km, respectively; its mean radius is 2574.73 +- 0.09 km. Titan's shape approximates a hydrostatic, synchronously rotating triaxial ellipsoid but is best fit by such a body orbiting closer to Saturn than Titan presently does. Titan's lack of high relief implies that most-but not all-of the surface features observed with the Cassini imaging subsystem and synthetic aperture radar are uncorrelated with topography and elevation. Titan's depressed polar radii suggest that a constant geopotential hydrocarbon table could explain the confinement of the hydrocarbon lakes to high latitudes.
Published: 16 May 2009
A plume of water vapour escapes from fissures crossing the south polar region of the Saturnian moon Enceladus. Tidal deformation of a thin surface crust above an internal ocean could result in tensile and compressive stresses that would affect the width of the fissures; therefore, the quantity of water vapour released at different locations in Enceladus' eccentric orbit is a crucial measurement of tidal control of venting. Here we report observations of an occultation of a star by the plume on 24 October 2007 that revealed four high-density gas jets superimposed on the background plume. The gas jet positions coincide with those of dust jets reported elsewhere inside the plume. The maximum water column density in the plume is about twice the density reported earlier. The density ratio does not agree with predictions - we should have seen less water than was observed in 2005. The ratio of the jets' bulk vertical velocities to their thermal velocities is 1.5 0.2, which supports the hypothesis that the source of the plume is liquid water, with gas accelerated to supersonic velocity in nozzle-like channels.
Published: 27 November 2008
9-Mar-2021 10:52 UT

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