Waves and horizontal structures in Titan's thermosphere

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

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54 Scopus citations


The Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) on board the Cassini spacecraft carried out in situ measurements of neutral gas composition above 1025 km altitude in Titan's atmosphere during its flybys in October 2004 (TA) and April 2005 (T5). Strong perturbations are present in the N2 and CH4 densities which we interpret as vertically propagating waves. Typical vertical wavelengths range from 170 to 360 km with density and pressure amplitudes reaching 4-12% of the background values and temperature amplitudes of 5-10 K. Amplitudes over our sampled height range, 1025 (T5) or 1176 (TA) to 1600 km, remain roughly constant, implying that the exponential increase in wave amplitudes with height due to the decrease of density is offset by damping. This finding allows us to constrain the wave periods to values in the order of hours. Estimates of wave-induced acceleration of the background thermosphere suggest that the waves we observe could deposit considerable momentum in Titan's thermosphere, thereby coupling the dynamics of the upper atmosphere with that of the middle atmosphere. In addition, we infer latitudinal structures in Titan's thermosphere with a factor of 3-4 increase of mass densities from pole to equator in the northern hemisphere. A preliminary evaluation of local time variations suggests densities and thermospheric temperatures to be largest near dusk, contradicting expectations for a thermosphere driven energetically and dynamically primarily by solar EUV. From the latitudinal density gradients we derived zonal wind speeds of around 245 ± 50 ms-1, implying that Titan's thermosphere, like its stratosphere, could be superrotating. Our analyses were based on the TA and TS flybys only, and future Cassini Titan flybys could either support or invalidate our findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA12315
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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