Measurements of methane absorption by the descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) during its descent through Titan's atmosphere

M. G. Tomasko, B. Bézard, L. Doose, S. Engel, E. Karkoschka

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42 Scopus citations


New low-temperature methane absorption coefficients pertinent to the Titan environment are presented as derived from the Huygens DISR spectral measurements combined with the in-situ measurements of the methane gas abundance profile measured by the Huygens Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer (GCMS). The visible and near-infrared spectrometers of the descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) instrument on the Huygens probe looked upward and downward covering wavelengths from 480 to 1620 nm at altitudes from 150 km to the surface during the descent to Titan's surface. The measurements at continuum wavelengths were used to determine the vertical distribution, single-scattering albedos, and phase functions of the aerosols. The gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GCMS) instrument on the probe measured the methane mixing ratio throughout the descent. The DISR measurements are the first direct measurements of the absorbing properties of methane gas made in the atmosphere of Titan at the pathlengths, pressures, and temperatures that occur there. Here we use the DISR spectral measurements to determine the relative methane absorptions at different wavelengths along the path from the probe to the sun throughout the descent. These transmissions as functions of methane path length are fit by exponential sums and used in a haze radiative transfer model to compare the results to the spectra measured by DISR. We also compare the recent laboratory measurements of methane absorption at low temperatures [Irwin et al., 2006. Improved near-infrared methane band models and k-distribution parameters from 2000 to 9500 cm-1 and implications for interpretation of outer planet spectra. Icarus 181, 309-319] with the DISR measurements. We find that the strong bands formed at low pressures on Titan act as if they have roughly half the absorption predicted by the laboratory measurements, while the weak absorption regions absorb considerably more than suggested by some extrapolations of warm measurements to the cold Titan temperatures. We give factors as a function of wavelength that can be used with the published methane coefficients between 830 and 1620 nm to give agreement with the DISR measurements. We also give exponential sum coefficients for methane absorptions that fit the DISR observations. We find the DISR observations of the weaker methane bands shortward of 830 nm agree with the methane coefficients given by Karkoschka [1994. Spectrophotometry of the jovian planets and Titan at 300- to 1000-nm wavelength: the methane spectrum. Icarus 111, 174-192]. Finally, we discuss the implications of our results for computations of methane absorption in the atmospheres of the outer planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-647
Number of pages24
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Huygens
  • Methane absorption
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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