A review of Titan’s atmospheric phenomena
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- Hirtzig, M., Tokano, T., Rodriguez, S. et al. Astron Astrophys Rev (2009) 17: 105. doi:10.1007/s00159-009-0018-0
Saturn’s satellite Titan is a particularly interesting body in our solar system. It is the only satellite with a dense atmosphere, which is primarily made of nitrogen and methane. It harbours an intricate photochemistry, that populates the atmosphere with aerosols, but that should deplete irreversibly the methane. The observation that methane is not depleted led to the study of Titan’s methane cycle, starting with its atmospheric part. The features that inhabit Titan’s atmosphere can last for timescales varying from year to day. For instance, the reversal of the north–south asymmetry is linked to the 16-year seasonal cycle. Diurnal phenomena have also been observed, like a stratospheric haze enhancement or a possible tropospheric drizzle. Furthermore, clouds have been reported on Titan since 1993. From these first detections and up to now, with the recent inputs from the Cassini–Huygens mission, clouds have displayed a large range of shapes, altitudes, and natures, from the flocky tropospheric clouds at the south pole to the stratiform ones in the northern stratosphere. It is still difficult to compose a clear picture of the physical processes governing these phenomena, even though of lot of different means of observation (spectroscopy, imaging) are available now. We propose here an overview of the phenomena reported between 1993 and 2008 in the low atmosphere of Titan, with indications on the location, altitude, and their characteristics in order to give a perspective of our up-to-date understanding of Titan’s meteorological manifestations. We shall focus mainly on direct imaging observations, from both space- and ground-based facilities. All of these observations, published in more than 30 different refereed papers to date, allow us to build a precise chronology of Titan’s atmospheric changes (including the north–south asymmetry, diurnal and seasonal effects, etc). Since the interpretation is at an early stage, we only briefly mention some of the current theories regarding the features’ nature.
KeywordsTitan, satellites Near-infrared Clouds Imagery, spectroscopy, spectro-imagery
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