Publication archive

Publication archive

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, remains an enigma, explored only by remote sensing from Earth, and by the Voyager and Cassini spacecraft. The most puzzling aspects include the origin of the molecular nitrogen and methane in its atmosphere, and the mechanism(s) by which methane is maintained in the face of rapid destruction by photolysis. The Huygens probe, launched from the Cassini spacecraft, has made the first direct observations of the satellite's surface and lower atmosphere. Here we report direct atmospheric measurements from the Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GCMS), including altitude profiles of the constituents, isotopic ratios and trace species (including organic compounds). The primary constituents were confirmed to be nitrogen and methane. Noble gases other than argon were not detected. The argon includes primordial 36Ar, and the radiogenic isotope 40Ar, providing an important constraint on the outgassing history of Titan. Trace organic species, including cyanogen and ethane, were found in surface measurements.
Published: 08 December 2005
One of Titan's most intriguing attributes is its copious but featureless atmosphere. The Voyager 1 fly-by and occultation in 1980 provided the first radial survey of Titan's atmospheric pressure and temperature and evidence for the presence of strong zonal winds. It was realized that the motion of an atmospheric probe could be used to study the winds, which led to the inclusion of the Doppler Wind Experiment on the Huygens probe. Here we report a high resolution vertical profile of Titan's winds, with an estimated accuracy of better than 1 m s-1. The zonal winds were prograde during most of the atmospheric descent, providing in situ confirmation of superrotation on Titan. A layer with surprisingly slow wind, where the velocity decreased to near zero, was detected at altitudes between 60 and 100 km. Generally weak winds (~1 m s-1) were seen in the lowest 5 km of descent.
Published: 08 December 2005
The irreversible conversion of methane into higher hydrocarbons in Titan's stratosphere implies a surface or subsurface methane reservoir. Recent measurements from the cameras aboard the Cassini orbiter fail to see a global reservoir, but the methane and smog in Titan's atmosphere impedes the search for hydrocarbons on the surface. Here we report spectra and high-resolution images obtained by the Huygens Probe Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer instrument in Titan's atmosphere. Although these images do not show liquid hydrocarbon pools on the surface, they do reveal the traces of once flowing liquid. Surprisingly like Earth, the brighter highland regions show complex systems draining into flat, dark lowlands. Images taken after landing are of a dry riverbed. The infrared reflectance spectrum measured for the surface is unlike any other in the Solar System; there is a red slope in the optical range that is consistent with an organic material such as tholins, and absorption from water ice is seen. However, a blue slope in the near-infrared suggests another, unknown constituent. The number density of haze particles increases by a factor of just a few from an altitude of 150 km to the surface, with no clear space below the tropopause. The methane relative humidity near the surface is 50 per cent.
Published: 08 December 2005
The ESA Huygens Probe entered and descended for nearly 2.5 hours through the atmosphere of Titan on 14 January 2005. Huygens survived impact on the surface and continued its telemetry broadcast to the NASA Cassini spacecraft on two separate radio links, denoted Channels A and B, respectively, for an additional 1.2 hours. The instrumentation for the Huygens Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE) consisting of two Ultra-Stable Oscillators in the transmitter (TUSO) and receiver (RUSO), were implemented only in Channel A. Whereas Channel B functioned flawlessly during the entire mission, the receiver for Channel A was never able to lock onto the Huygens signal because the DWE-RUSO had not been properly programmed into the critical probe radio relay sequence. All data on Channel A, including the DWE measurements and probe telemetry, were thus lost. In spite of this setback, the Channel A signal was successfully received at many radio telescopes on Earth. The precision of these Doppler measurements, considered as an aggregate, is roughly equivalent to that which had been foreseen from the measurements on board Cassini. We present an overview of the DWE ground-based observations and the Titan wind profile derived from them.
Published: 28 May 2005
In light of Huygens measurements, we present our improved model of thermal and photochemical evolution of Titan's atmosphere. Atreya et. al (1978) demonstrated that photolysis of ammonia on primordial Titan is capable of producing a nitrogen atmosphere substantially thicker than that measured by Voyager. E. Wilson (2001) carried this calculation one step further by including methane and water vapor explicitly in the ammonia photochemistry model, and arrived at a preliminary estimate of time required to accumulate different amounts of nitrogen. However, both models assumed an isothermal atmosphere. Since chemistry leading up to nitrogen occurs in the stratosphere, both the thermal structure and saturation effects are important for determining the time constants and amounts of nitrogen production. In this presentation, we discuss preliminary results of a radiative equilibrium model for the primordial middle and lower atmosphere of Titan. It includes CH4, NH3 and H2O in solar proportions for its initial composition, and CH4-CH4 pressure induced absorption, which presently controls the thermal structure in the troposphere. The temperature in the stratosphere is controlled by the haze, and we explore the effects of a haze layer at various altitudes for accelerating conversion of ammonia to nitrogen. Furthermore, we include the effects of enhanced solar flux during the T-Tauri phase, which could speed up both the loss of nitrogen and conversion of ammonia to nitrogen. We are in the process of coupling the radiative transfer model to a comprehensive photochemical model (Wilson and Atreya, 2004) to access the roles of trace species other than those included in this calculation.
Published: 28 May 2005
Titan's nitrogen-rich atmosphere is directly bombarded by energetic ions, due to its lack of a significant intrinsic magnetic field. Singly-charged energetic ions from Saturn's magnetosphere undergo charge exchange collisions with neutral atoms in Titan's exosphere, being transformed into energetic neutral atoms (ENAs). The Ion and Neutral Camera (INCA), one of the three sensors that comprise the Magnetosphere Imaging Instrument (MIMI) on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan, images the ENA emissions from various ion/gas interaction regions in the Saturnian magnetosphere. During Cassini's second orbit around Saturn the spacecraft performed the Ta Titan flyby (October 26, 2004), at an altitude of only 1174 km. INCA data acquired during this targeted close flyby confirm model predictions of dominant finite ion gyroradii effects, but also reveal a much more complex interaction: maximum ENA emissions are originating at higher altitudes than predicted by a simple Chamberlain-type model of the Titan exosphere. These observations will be analyzed and a simulation will be presented of some of the exospheric features they reveal.
Published: 28 May 2005
During the Huygens probe mission at Titan on 14th January 2005, the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI) obtained measurements of atmospheric properties from up above 1400 km down to the ground, thus inferring the atmospheric structure. The atmospheric profile along the Huygens probe trajectory during entry phase have been retrieved from the accelerometers data, while below 160 km direct pressure and temperature measurements have been performed. The vertical temperature profile retrieved from HASI data is in very good agreement with the model derived from Voyager's observations, confirms the evidence for a stratopause and the inversion layers in the upper atmosphere as observed during stellar occultations and yielded new details on atmospheric structure.
Published: 28 May 2005
1. The very low abundances of Ar, Kr and Xe in Titan's atmosphere can be easily explained by our experimental findings. These gases are trapped in the aerosols, which are formed by UV photolysis of acetylene in their presence. When the aerosols fall down to the surface, they clean the atmosphere of these gases. A continuous supply of the radiogenic produced 40Ar from the interior can explain its small abundance in the atmosphere. 2. The originally soft and sticky photochemical aerosols, as found by us experimentally, were calculated to harden by spontaneous and radiation induces chemical cross-linking. Indeed the camera and other detectors were not covered by sticky aerosols and the intake ports were not clogged. 3. As we predicted, no lightning discharges were detected in the quiescent Titan atmosphere. Therefore, Titan's atmospheric chemistry is driven mainly by solar UV irradiation and not by electrical discharges. 4. The mixing ratios of the major gas phase species produced by UV photolysis of acetylene, as found experimentally: methylacetylene ; diacetylene ; divinyl ; and benzene were observed by the Cassini spacecraft in Titan's upper atmosphere, with an agreement within better than an order of magnitude. 5. The N:C ratio in Titan's aerosols was measured by the Huygens probe, but no results were published yet. UV photolysis of gas mixtures containing C2H2:HCN=10 yield aerosols with a ratio N:C=0.007 up to 0.01. Electrical discharges through a N2:CH4~10 gas mixtures yield a much higher N:C ratio. 6. We anticipate mountains not higher than 1900 m on Titan's surface.
Published: 28 May 2005
The magnetospheres of Earth and Saturn have similarities in terms of the highest energy radiation belt components from Cosmic Ray Albedo Neutron Decay (CRAND) but have otherwise been expected to differ on the role of charged particle convection driven by solar wind interactions with these magnetospheres. Saturn's inner and middle magnetosphere has been assumed to be dominated by corotation with little direct penetration by solar wind and magnetotail plasma. Since Saturn's planetary magnetic field characterized by the Z3 model is axisymmetric, although slightly offset northward from the ring plane, it has been difficult to understand previous Pioneer and Voyager measurements of local time asymmetry in energetic particle populations, including just outside the main rings as found by Pioneer 11. Small scale features (microsignatures) of charged particle absorption by Saturn moons and possible 'ghost' clouds of co-orbiting debris show no consistent patterns in the context of symmetric models for longitudinal drift shells. Since the 100-MeV CRAND proton drift shells are highly symmetric, it is apparent that lower energy electrons and ions showing substantial local time asymmetry are influenced by forces other than simple corotation. Cassini Huygens neutral atom observations show clear evidence of substorm injections reaching into the middle magnetosphere of Saturn preferentially on the nightside.
Published: 28 May 2005
Titan is the only satellite in our Solar System with a dense atmosphere. The surface pressure is 1.5 bar and, similar to the Earth, N2 is the main component of the atmosphere. Methane is the second most important component, but it is photodissociated on a timescale of 107 years. This short timescale has led to the suggestion that Titan may possess a surface or subsurface reservoir of hydrocarbons to replenish the atmosphere. Here we report near-infrared images of Titan obtained on 26 October 2004 by the Cassini spacecraft. The images show that a widespread methane ocean does not exist; subtle albedo variations instead suggest topographical variations, as would be expected for a more solid (perhaps icy) surface. We also find a circular structure, 30 km in diameter that does not resemble any features seen on other icy satellites.We propose that the structure is a dome formed by upwelling icy plumes that release methane into Titan's atmosphere.
Published: 10 June 2005
Through coupled thermal and orbital calculations including a full description of tidal dissipation, heat transfer and the H2ONH3 phase diagram, we propose a model for the internal structure and composition of Titan testable with Cassini Huygens measurements. The high value of Titan's orbital eccentricity provides a strong constraint on the amount of the tidal energy dissipation on its surface and within its interior since its formation. We show that only models with a few percent of ammonia (and not zero) in the primordial liquid water shell can limit the damping of the eccentricity over the age of the Solar System. The present models predict that a liquid ammonia-rich water layer should still be present within Titan under an ice I layer, a few tens of kilometers thick. Furthermore, we predict that any event linked to convective processes in the ice Ih layer (like the degassing of methane) could have occurred very late in Titan's history.
Published: 16 June 2005
We present a method for inferring the relative molar abundance of constituents of a liquid mixture, in this case methane, ethane, nitrogen and argon, from a measurement of a set of physical properties of the mixture. This problem is of interest in the context of the Huygens Surface Science Package, SSP, equipped to measure several physical properties of a liquid in case of a liquid landing on Saturn's moon Titan. While previous models emphasized the possibility of verifying a certain model proposed by atmospheric composition and equations of state, we use an inverse approach to the problem, i.e. we will infer the liquid composition strictly from our measurements of density, refractive index, permittivity, thermal conductivity and speed of sound. Other a priori information can later be used to improve (or reject) the model obtained from these measurements.
Published: 16 May 2005
The magnetic field signature obtained by Cassini during its first close encounter with Titan on 26 October 2004 is presented and explained in terms of an advanced model. Titan was inside the saturnian magnetosphere. A magnetic field minimum before closest approach marked Cassini's entry into the magnetic ionopause layer. Cassini then left the northern and entered the southern magnetic tail lobe. The magnetic field before and after the encounter was approximately constant for ~20 Titan radii, but the field orientation changed exactly at the location of Titan's orbit. No evidence of an internal magnetic field at Titan was detected.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument (MIMI) observed the interaction of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, with Saturn's magnetosphere during two close flybys of Titan on 26 October and 13 December 2004. The MIMI Ion and Neutral Camera (INCA) continuously imaged the energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) generated by charge exchange reactions between the energetic, singly ionized trapped magnetospheric ions and the outer atmosphere, or exosphere, of Titan. The images reveal a halo of variable ENA emission about Titan's nearly collisionless outer atmosphere that fades at larger distances as the exospheric density decays exponentially. The altitude of the emissions varies, and they are not symmetrical about the moon, reflecting the complexity of the interactions between Titan's upper atmosphere and Saturn's space environment.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) Langmuir probe (LP) sensor observed the cold plasma environment around Titan during the first two flybys. The data show that conditions in Saturn's magnetosphere affect the structure and dynamics deep in the ionosphere of Titan. The maximum measured ionospheric electron number density reached 3800 per cubic centimeter near closest approach, and a complex chemistry was indicated. The electron temperature profiles are consistent with electron heat conduction from the hotter Titan wake. The ionospheric escape flux was estimated to be 1025 ions per second.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) has obtained the first in situ composition measurements of the neutral densities of molecular nitrogen, methane, molecular hydrogen, argon, and a host of stable carbon-nitrile compounds in Titan's upper atmosphere. INMS in situ mass spectrometry has also provided evidence for atmospheric waves in the upper atmosphere and the first direct measurements of isotopes of nitrogen, carbon, and argon, which reveal interesting clues about the evolution of the atmosphere. The bulk composition and thermal structure of the moon's upper atmosphere do not appear to have changed considerably since the Voyager 1 flyby.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (UVIS) observed the extinction of photons from two stars by the atmosphere of Titan during the Titan flyby. Six species were identified and measured: methane, acetylene, ethylene, ethane, diacetylene, and hydrogen cyanide. The observations cover altitudes from 450 to 1600 kilometers above the surface. A mesopause is inferred from extraction of the temperature structure of methane, located at 615 km with a temperature minimum of 114 kelvin. The asymptotic kinetic temperature at the top of the atmosphere determined from this experiment is 151 kelvin. The higher order hydrocarbons and hydrogen cyanide peak sharply in abundance and are undetectable below altitudes ranging from 750 to 600 km, leaving methane as the only identifiable carbonaceous molecule in this experiment below 600 km.
Published: 14 May 2005
Temperatures obtained from early Cassini infrared observations of Titan show a stratopause at an altitude of 310 kilometers (and 186 kelvin at 15°S). Stratospheric temperatures are coldest in the winter northern hemisphere, with zonal winds reaching 160 meters per second. The concentrations of several stratospheric organic compounds are enhanced at mid- and high northern latitudes, and the strong zonal winds may inhibit mixing between these latitudes and the rest of Titan. Above the south pole, temperatures in the stratosphere are 4 to 5 kelvin cooler than at the equator. The stratospheric mole fractions of methane and carbon monoxide are (1.6 ± 0.5) x 10-2 and (4.5 ± 1.5) x 10-5, respectively.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Titan Radar Mapper imaged about 1% of Titan's surface at a resolution of ~0.5 kilometer, and larger areas of the globe in lower resolution modes. The images reveal a complex surface, with areas of low relief and a variety of geologic features suggestive of dome-like volcanic constructs, flows, and sinuous channels. The surface appears to be young, with few impact craters. Scattering and dielectric properties are consistent with porous ice or organics. Dark patches in the radar images show high brightness temperatures and high emissivity and are consistent with frozen hydrocarbons.
Published: 14 May 2005
The Cassini Orbiter spacecraft first skimmed through the tenuous upper atmosphere of Titan on 26 October 2004. This moon of Saturn is unique in our solar system, with a dense nitrogen atmosphere that is cold enough in places to rain methane, the feedstock for the atmospheric chemistry that produces hydrocarbons, nitrile compounds, and Titan's orange haze. The data returned from this flyby supply new information on the magnetic field and plasma environment around Titan, expose new facets of the dynamics and chemistry of Titan's atmosphere, and provide the first glimpses of what appears to be a complex, fluid-processed, geologically young Titan surface.
Published: 14 May 2005
27-Jul-2021 11:49 UT

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