Europlanet Science Congress 2020
Virtual meeting
21 September – 9 October 2020
Europlanet Science Congress 2020
Virtual meeting
21 September – 9 October 2020

Oral presentations and abstracts


Despite its satellite status, Titan has nothing to envy to planets: it has planetary dimensions, a substantial and dynamic atmosphere, a carbon cycle, a variety of geological features (dunes, lakes, rivers, mountains…), seasons and a hidden ocean. It even now has its own mission: Dragonfly, selected by NASA in the frame of the New Frontiers program.
In this session, scientific presentations are solicited to cover all aspects of current research on Titan: from its interior to its upper atmosphere, using data collected in the frame of the Cassini-Huygens mission (2004-2017) or from ground-based telescopes (e.g., ALMA) or based on modelling and experimental efforts to support the interpretation of past and future observations of this unique world.

Convener: Alice Le Gall | Co-conveners: Anezina Solomonidou, Sandrine Vinatier, Giuseppe Mitri, Marco Mastroguiseppe, Sarah M. Hörst

Session assets

Session summary

Chairperson: Alice Le Gall
Hanying Wei, Christopher Russell, Yingjuan Ma, and Michele Dougherty

Titan has a thick atmosphere, the top of which is ionized and interacts with its plasma environment, i.e. usually the Saturnian magnetospheric plasma, but occasionally the magnetosheath or even the solar wind plasma. When the upstream plasma flow encounters Titan, the plasma slows down and diverts around Titan, and the magnetic field slowly diffuses into Titan’s ionosphere and induces currents in the ionosphere. The resulting magnetic field pattern is that, in the upstream of Titan, field lines drape around it, and in the downstream, the field lines stretch tail-like. Gradually these external fields penetrate into the lower atmosphere and the interior of Titan, and induce currents in any conductive layer if a conductive layer does indeed exist in Titan’s interior. This internally induced current acts to exclude the penetrated field. Both the internally induced field and the externally induced ionospheric field have strength and orientation variable with certain time scales because they are responses to the penetrated external field. The Cassini observations are a sum of fields from both internal and external sources. In this paper, we review the low altitude observations from all Cassini Titan flybys and examine the different behaviors of the external and internal fields, which ultimately provide an upper limit to Titan’s internal field leading to indications for Titan’s interior.

How to cite: Wei, H., Russell, C., Ma, Y., and Dougherty, M.: The external and internal magnetic fields of Titan: Cassini observations, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-79,, 2020.

Audrey Chatain, Jan-Erik Wahlund, Oleg Shebanits, Lina Hadid, Michiko Morooka, Niklas Edberg, Nathalie Carrasco, and Olivier Guaitella


The Cassini Langmuir Probe (LP) data acquired in the ionosphere of Titan are re-analysed to finely study the electron behaviour in the birthplace of Titan’s aerosols (900-1200 km). The detailed analysis of the complete Cassini LP dataset below 1200 km (57 flybys) shows the systematic detection of 2 to 4 electron populations, with reproducible characteristics depending on altitude and solar illumination. Their densities and temperatures are deduced from the Orbital Motion Limited theory. Statistical correlations with other quantities measured by Cassini are investigated. We finally discuss the origins of the detected populations, one being possibly emitted by aerosols.


1- Introduction

The Cassini mission discovered that Titan’s ionosphere is the birthplace of the solid orange aerosols surrounding Titan [1]. It is an ionized environment (plasma) hosting a complex ion chemistry [2]. The aerosols are formed and certainly eroded [3] in this environment. They are likely to interact strongly with the plasma species (i.e. electrons, ions, radicals and excited species): the ionosphere of Titan is a ‘dusty plasma’ below ~1100 km [4], [5]. Besides, models of the ionosphere do not match well measurements below 1100 km [6]. Recent works [7]–[9] showed the necessity to take negative ions and aerosols into account in the models.

The present work aims to finely analyse the behaviour of electrons in the aerosols-containing region of the ionosphere (~900-1200 km) sounded at 57 occasions by the Cassini Langmuir Probe (LP), part of the Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) package.


2- Re-analysis using 2 to 4 electron contributions

The current collected by the Langmuir probe in the conditions of the ionosphere of Titan can be modelled according to three hypotheses: (1) the electron velocity distributions are considered Maxwellians; (2) in the case where the probe repels electrons, the current collected can be given by the Orbital Motion Limited (OML) theory [10], [11]; (3) in the case where the probe attracts electrons, the current is fitted using the Sheath Limited theory [12].

To obtain a satisfactory fitting, we show the necessity of using 2 to 4 electron populations (named P1, P2, P3 and P4) at different potentials [13]. We observe (see Figure 1) that the second derivative of the current is useful to deduce the number of electron populations detected on a measurement and gives an idea of their relative proportions. Indeed, d²I/dU² is physically related to the electron energy distribution functions (EEDF) through the Druyvesteyn method [14].


3- Populations: strong dependence with SZA and altitude

The visualisation of electron populations with d²I/dU² is used in Figure 2 to show the variations of the populations with altitude and solar illumination. Populations P1 and P2 are always present, contrarily to P3 and P4. Due to their low density and low potential, P1 electrons are suspected to be photo-electrons [10] or secondary electrons emitted on the probe stick. P3 electrons are only absent on the far nightside, while P4 electrons are detected only on dayside, and below the altitude of 1200 km. For this reason, they are suspected to be related to aerosols or heavy negative ions that appear below 1200 km.


4- Densities and temperatures for all the electron populations

Figures 3 and 4 give statistics on electron densities and temperatures measured for all the populations for the 57 Cassini flybys reaching at least 1200 km. They show that electron temperatures do not vary much with altitude between 1200 and 950 km, except for P4. P3 and P4 have increasing densities with pressure on dayside.


5- Statistics

The large dataset enables to do statistics and search for correlations. In particular, we observe that P3 and P4 densities are correlated with the extreme UV flux. This enforces the idea that these populations are formed by processes involving solar photons (certainly UV).

We also observe a strong correlation between the density and the temperature of the P4 population, as illustrated in Figure 5.


6- Conclusion: origins of the detected electron populations

From the above results we suggest possible origins for the three populations P2, P3 and P4, coming from the plasma surrounding the probe:

-P2 is detected in all cases, at rather low density (~500 cm-3) and temperature (~0.04 eV). These are supposed to be background thermalized electrons, possibly formed through collisions of gas species with magnetospheric suprathermal electrons.

-P3 electrons are denser with stronger solar illumination and higher pressure (up to 3000 cm-3). They are hotter than P2 electrons (~0.06-0.07 eV). Therefore, they could be formed by the photo-chemistry occurring in Titan’s ionosphere.

-P4 electrons are only observed on dayside and below 1200 km, in the place where heavy negative ions and aerosols are present. We suggest two possible formation processes: (1) the photo-emission of electrons from grains could be triggered by photons of a few eV due to the negative charge born by the aerosols [5], [15]; (2) electrons could also be thermo-emitted from the grains, as a result of their heating by diverse processes such as heterogeneous chemistry, sticking of electrons or recombination of radicals [16].



[1]      J. H. Waite et al. Science 316 (2007)

[2]      V. Vuitton et al. Icarus 324 (2019)

[3]      A. Chatain et al. Icarus 345 (2020)

[4]      P. Lavvas et al. PNAS 110 (2013)

[5]      O. Shebanits et al. J. Geophys. Res. Sp. Phys. 121 (2016)

[6]      M. Galand et al. in Titan, Cambridge University Press (2014) pp. 296–361.

[7]      O. Shebanits et al. Astrophys. J. 850 (2017)

[8]      R. T. Desai et al. Astrophys. J. 844 (2017)

[9]      A. Wellbrock et al. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 490 (2019)

[10]    J. E. Wahlund et al. Planet. Space Sci. 57 (2009)

[11]    E. C. J. Whipple, PhD thesis, Georg. Washingt. Univ. (1965)

[12]    R. T. Bettinger and E. H. Walker, Phys. Fluids 748 (1965)

[13]    A. Chatain et al., “Electron temperature(s) in Titan’s ionosphere” in EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting (2019)

[14]    M. J. Druyvesteyn, Zeitschrift für Phys. 64 (1930)

[15]    S. Tigrine et al. Astrophys. J. 867 (2018)

[16]    A. Woodard et al. J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A 38 (2020)

How to cite: Chatain, A., Wahlund, J.-E., Shebanits, O., Hadid, L., Morooka, M., Edberg, N., Carrasco, N., and Guaitella, O.: Re-analysis of the Cassini RPWS/LP data in Titan ionosphere: electron density and temperature of four cold electron populations, Europlanet Science Congress 2020, online, 21 Sep–9 Oct 2020, EPSC2020-436,, 2020.

Richard Haythornthwaite, Andrew Coates, Geraint Jones, Anne Wellbrock, and Hunter Waite


Data from the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer Ion Beam Spectrometer (CAPS IBS) sensor have been examined for 5 close encounters of Titan during 2009 to examine heavy positive ions. Positive ions with masses between 170 and 310 u/q are examined. Ion mass groups are identified up to 275 u/q with ion groups below 250 u/q having clear structure with a 12-14 u/q spacing between group peaks.

The ion group peaks are found to be consistent with masses of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and polycyclic aromatic nitrogen heterocyclics (PANH). The ion groups in this study are the heaviest positive ion groups examined so far from in-situ ion data at Titan. Our findings further the understanding of the link between low mass ions and high mass negative ions, as well as the formation of aerosols in Titan's atmosphere.


Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and has a thick extended atmosphere along with a large ionosphere. The ionosphere has been shown to contain a plethora of hydrocarbon/nitrile cations and anions1.

Previous ion composition studies in Titan’s ionosphere by Cassini instruments revealed "families" of ions around particular mass values and a regular spacing of 12 to 14 u/q between mass groups2. These are thought to be related to a carbon or nitrogen backbone that dominates the ion chemistry2. Previous studies also identified possible heavy ions such as naphthalene, anthracene derivatives and an anthracene dimer at 130, 170 and 335 u/q respectively1.  Later flybys demonstrated the existence of even larger positive ions up to masses of 1100 u/q3.


               The Cassini Plasma Spectrometer Ion Beam Spectrometer (CAPS IBS)4 is an electrostatic analyser that measures energy per charge ratios of ions. During the Titan flybys Cassini had a high velocity (~6 km/s) relative to the low ion velocities (<230 m/s) observed in the ionosphere. The ions were also cold, having ion temperatures around 150K. The combination of these factors meant that the ions appeared as a highly-directed supersonic beam in the spacecraft frame. This means the ions appear at kinetic energies associated with the spacecraft velocity and the ion mass, therefore the measured eV/q spectra can be converted to u/q spectra.