Latitudinal variations in Titan's methane and haze from Cassini VIMS observations

Paulo F. Penteado, Caitlin A. Griffith, Martin G. Tomasko, Steffi Engel, Charles See, Lyn Doose, Kevin H. Baines, Robert H. Brown, Bonnie J. Buratti, Roger Clark, Phillip Nicholson, Christophe Sotin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We analyze observations taken with Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), to determine the current methane and haze latitudinal distribution between 60°S and 40°N. The methane variation was measured primarily from its absorption band at 0.61 μm, which is optically thin enough to be sensitive to the methane abundance at 20-50 km altitude. Haze characteristics were determined from Titan's 0.4-1.6 μm spectra, which sample Titan's atmosphere from the surface to 200 km altitude. Radiative transfer models based on the haze properties and methane absorption profiles at the Huygens site reproduced the observed VIMS spectra and allowed us to retrieve latitude variations in the methane abundance and haze. We find the haze variations can be reproduced by varying only the density and single scattering albedo above 80 km altitude. There is an ambiguity between methane abundance and haze optical depth, because higher haze optical depth causes shallower methane bands; thus a family of solutions is allowed by the data. We find that haze variations alone, with a constant methane abundance, can reproduce the spatial variation in the methane bands if the haze density increases by 60% between 20°S and 10°S (roughly the sub-solar latitude) and single scattering absorption increases by 20% between 60°S and 40°N. On the other hand, a higher abundance of methane between 20 and 50 km in the summer hemisphere, as much as two times that of the winter hemisphere, is also possible, if the haze variations are minimized. The range of possible methane variations between 27°S and 19°N is consistent with condensation as a result of temperature variations of 0-1.5 K at 20-30 km. Our analysis indicates that the latitudinal variations in Titan's visible to near-IR albedo, the north/south asymmetry (NSA), result primarily from variations in the thickness of the darker haze layer, detected by Huygens DISR, above 80 km altitude. If we assume little to no latitudinal methane variations we can reproduce the NSA wavelength signatures with the derived haze characteristics. We calculate the solar heating rate as a function of latitude and derive variations of ∼10-15% near the sub-solar latitude resulting from the NSA. Most of the latitudinal variations in the heating rate stem from changes in solar zenith angle rather than compositional variations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)352-365
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Abundances, Atmospheres
  • Radiative transfer
  • Satellites, Atmospheres
  • Spectroscopy
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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