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Plasma/Upper Amtospheric Interactions Within the Saturn/Titan System

Presenter: Robert Winglee, University of Washington
When: October 23, 2007 2:30PM PDT

Titan is the only moon in the solar system that is able to maintain a thick atmosphere, with possible oceans of methane and ethane on its surface. This environment is probably the closest facsimile to the early atmosphere on the Earth, albeit at very much lower temperatures. The upper atmosphere is subject to ionization and erosion from incident plasma that is rotating within Saturn’s magnetosphere. This interaction can lead to modifications of the optical emissions that is different from the planetary emissions and thereby allow remote sensing of its upper atmospheric conditions.

3-D simulations are used to quantify how the interaction between Titan and Saturn changes under variable solar wind conditions. It is shown that this interaction leads to the generation of a comet-like tail which can extend several Saturn radii in length. This tail can be subject to disruption during storm-like conditions within the planetary magnetosphere. Potential applications to other systems are discussed, including the Jovian system and extrasolar planets.

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