Horizontal structures and dynamics of Titan's thermosphere

I. C.F. Müller-Wodarg, R. V. Yelle, J. Cui, J. H. Waite

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77 Scopus citations


The Cassini Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) measures densities of gases including N2 and CH4 in situ in Titan's upper atmosphere. We have used data from 13 targeted flybys of Titan (T5-T32) to construct an empirical model that describes the mean state of the thermosphere in the northern hemisphere, giving the N2 and CH4 densities between 1000 and 1600 km as a function of latitude and height. The principal features in the INMS data are well reproduced by this simple model. We find a pronounced oblateness in the thermosphere, with densities above 1100 km altitude increasing by around 70% from the northern (winter) pole to the equator, resulting in isobaric surfaces being ≃45 km higher over the equator than at the northern pole. Thermospheric temperatures derived from the densities tend to decrease with height from 149 ± 10 K to 140 ± 13 K near 1600 km. Considerable latitude differences are present in the temperatures below 1200 km. Near 1000 km altitude, temperatures reach 164 ± 6 K at 20°N and 131 ± 6 K near 80°N. Using our Thermosphere General Circulation Model with this thermal structure imposed, we derive thermospheric horizontal wind speeds reaching ∼150 m s-1, with primarily poleward flow at equatorial latitudes which, northward of around 60°N, is accompanied by a band of prograde zonal winds of up to 50 m s-1. At high latitudes, converging horizontal winds generate regions of strong subsistence. We find thermospheric dynamics to be sensitive to coupling from below. CH4 abundances are enhanced in the northern polar region, which may result from transport by thermospheric winds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE10005
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 20 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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