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Titan's atmospheric composition from

UVIS data analysis


*Fernando J. Capalbo[1] and Yves Bénilan[1]

[1] Laboratoire Interuniversitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques, UMR 7583 du CNRS,


Université Paris Est Créteil et Paris Diderot, Créteil, France

e-mail : fernando.capalbo@lisa.univ-paris12.fr

Cassini-Huygens is the NASA-ESA-ASI mission to explore the Saturnian system.


One particularly interesting object is Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and the only one in the
Solar System known to have a thick N2/CH4, planet-like atmosphere. This atmosphere is
long ago known to be rich in organic compounds of high interest for astrobiology.

Together with other 11 instruments the Cassini orbiter has the Ultra Violet Imaging
Spectrometer (UVIS), a valuable tool that, among other capabilities, allows studying
composition, element distribution and temperatures in Titan’s upper atmosphere.
Star occultation by Titan’s atmosphere is a convenient technique to retrieve altitude
profiles of absorbing compounds. Cassini fly-bys provide excellent opportunities for this.
The quality of the result is highly dependent on the resolution of the measured
transmission spectra, and on the available molecular absorption cross section data for the
atmosphere’s component species used in the retrieval (Ferradaz et al., 2008).

In this work, transmission spectra for different altitudes in Titan’s atmosphere are
obtained from UVIS data. The data, in the form of spatial spectral cubes, corresponds to
star occultation events. The data products include those of the December 2004 Titan fly-
by (Shemansky et al., 2005).

The transmission spectra are used together with recent experimental measurements of
absorption cross sections of the relevant molecules (Ferradaz et al., 2008) to determine
the presence and distribution of carbonaceous compounds in Titan’s atmosphere. The
modelled atmosphere used for the retrieval includes CH4, C2H2, HCN, C2H4, C2H6, C4H2,
HC3N and C2N2.

It is expected that the UVIS spectral resolution and absorption cross section, improved
with respect to previous instruments and experimental data respectively (Vervak et al.,
2004), will result in a very reliable identification of species densities from the
transmission spectra. The availability of cross section information for different
temperatures will also improve the reliability of the retrieved abundances. This analysis
will be compared to available photochemical models which will help to improve the
comprehension of Titan’s atmospheric organic chemistry.