Ion chemistry and N-containing molecules in Titan's upper atmosphere

V. Vuitton, R. V. Yelle, M. J. McEwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

311 Scopus citations


High-energy photons, electrons, and ions initiate ion-neutral chemistry in Titan's upper atmosphere by ionizing the major neutral species (nitrogen and methane). The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) onboard the Cassini spacecraft performed the first composition measurements of Titan's ionosphere. INMS revealed that Titan has the most compositionally complex ionosphere in the Solar System, with roughly 50 ions at or above the detection threshold. Modeling of the ionospheric composition constrains the density of minor neutral constituents, most of which cannot be measured with any other technique. The species identified with this approach include the most complex molecules identified so far on Titan. This confirms the long-thought idea that a very rich chemistry is actually taking place in this atmosphere. However, it appears that much of the interesting chemistry occurs in the upper atmosphere rather than at lower altitudes. The species observed by INMS are probably the first intermediates in the formation of even larger molecules. As a consequence, they affect the composition of the bulk atmosphere, the composition and optical properties of the aerosols and the flux of condensable material to the surface. In this paper, we discuss the production and loss reactions for the ions and how this affects the neutral densities. We compare our results to neutral densities measured in the stratosphere by other instruments, to production yields obtained in laboratory experiments simulating Titan's chemistry and to predictions of photochemical models. We suggest neutral formation mechanisms and highlight needs for new experimental and theoretical data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)722-742
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 15 2007


  • Atmospheres
  • Ionospheres
  • Organic chemistry
  • Titan
  • composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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