Publications associated with Planetary Science


Mapping the zonal structure of Titan's northern polar vortex

Icarus 337 (2020)

J Sharkey, NA Teanby, M Sylvestre, DM Mitchell, WJM Seviour, CA Nixon, PGJ Irwin

© 2019 Elsevier Inc. Saturn exhibits an obliquity of 26.7° such that the largest moon, Titan, experiences seasonal variations including the formation of a polar vortex in the winter hemisphere. Titan's polar vortex is characterised by cold stratospheric temperatures due to the lack of insolation over the winter pole, and an increase in trace gas abundance as a result of complex organic chemistry in the upper atmosphere combined with polar subsidence. Meridional variations in temperature and gas abundance across the vortex have previously been investigated, but there has not yet been any in-depth study of the zonal variations in the temperature or composition of the northern vortex. Here we present the first comprehensive two-dimensional seasonal mapping of Titan's northern winter vortex. Using 18 nadir mapping sequences observed by the Composite InfraRed Spectrometer (CIRS) instrument on-board Cassini, we investigate the evolution of the vortex over almost half a Titan year, from late winter through to mid summer (Ls = 326 − 86°, 2007–2017). We find the stratospheric symmetry axis to be tilted from the solid body rotation axis by around 3.5°, although our results for the azimuthal orientation of the tilt are inconclusive. We find that the northern vortex appears to remain zonally uniform in both temperature and composition at all times. A comparison with vortices observed on Earth, Mars, and Venus shows that large-scale wave mechanisms that are important on other terrestrial planets are not as significant in Titan's atmosphere. This allows the northern vortex to be more symmetrical and persist longer throughout the annual cycle compared to other terrestrial planets.


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