Volume 529, May 2011
|Number of page(s)||4|
|Section||Planets and planetary systems|
|Published online||21 April 2011|
Ionization processes in the atmosphere of Titan
III. Ionization by high-Z nuclei cosmic rays
NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, USA
2 Laboratoire de Planétologie de Grenoble, Université Joseph Fourier - CNRS, France
3 Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Switzerland
4 SpaceIT GmbH, Sennweg 15, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
5 Space and Solar-Terrestrial Research Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 6 Moskovska str., 1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
Received: 1 September 2010
Accepted: 14 March 2011
Context. The Cassini-Huygens mission has revealed the importance of particle precipitation in the atmosphere of Titan thanks to in-situ measurements. These ionizing particles (electrons, protons, and cosmic rays) have a strong impact on the chemistry, hence must be modeled.
Aims. We revisit our computation of ionization in the atmosphere of Titan by cosmic rays. The high-energy high-mass ions are taken into account to improve the precision of the calculation of the ion production profile.
Methods. The Badhwahr and O’Neill model for cosmic ray spectrum was adapted for the Titan model. We used the TransTitan model coupled with the Planetocosmics model to compute the ion production by cosmic rays. We compared the results with the NAIRAS/HZETRN ionization model used for the first time for a body that differs from the Earth.
Results. The cosmic ray ionization is computed for five groups of cosmic rays, depending on their charge and mass: protons, alpha, Z = 8 (oxygen), Z = 14 (silicon), and Z = 26 (iron) nucleus. Protons and alpha particles ionize mainly at 65 km altitude, while the higher mass nucleons ionize at higher altitudes. Nevertheless, the ionization at higher altitude is insufficient to obscure the impact of Saturn’s magnetosphere protons at a 500 km altitude. The ionization rate at the peak (altitude: 65 km, for all the different conditions) lies between 30 and 40 cm-3s-1.
Conclusions. These new computations show for the first time the importance of high Z cosmic rays on the ionization of the Titan atmosphere. The updated full ionization profile shape does not differ significantly from that found in our previous calculations (Paper I: Gronoff et al. 2009, 506, 955) but undergoes a strong increase in intensity below an altitude of 400 km, especially between 200 and 400 km altitude where alpha and heavier particles (in the cosmic ray spectrum) are responsible for 40% of the ionization.
The comparison of several models of ionization and cosmic ray spectra (in intensity and composition) reassures us about the stability of the altitude of the ionization peak (65 km altitude) with respect to the solar activity.
Key words: atmospheric effects / methods: numerical / planets and satellites: atmospheres / planets and satellites: individual: Titan
© ESO, 2011
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