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  • Online publication date: January 2014

12 - Titan's magnetospheric and plasma environment


12.1 Introduction

Titan, Mars, and Venus are three largely unmagnetized planetary bodies with dense atmospheres that are immersed in external and highly dynamic magnetized plasma flows. Mars and Venus interact with the solar wind, whereas Titan usually interacts with the rotating magnetosphere of Saturn, and only occasionally is subject to shocked solar wind during brief excursions into Saturn's magnetosheath (Figure 12.1). Titan's atmosphere is ionized by the energetic plasma flow, together with solar and cosmic ray radiation (see Chapter 11), and the resulting ionosphere provide a conductive environment with which the external plasma flow interacts. The ability of the ionosphere to carry an electrical current plays an important role in the dynamics and energetics of the ionosphere, and through collisions, to the deposition of energy and momentum into the neutral atmosphere. This magnetosphere/ionosphere interaction at Titan involves the formation of an induced magnetosphere around Titan with interaction boundaries that drapes the magnetic field lines into a long tail behind the moon, already detected by the instruments of the Voyager 1 spacecraft (e.g., Ness et al., 1982; Gurnett et al., 1982) during its swift fly-by of Titan's plasma wake. The interaction causes ionospheric convection and facilitates the escape of ionospheric plasma through the tail to the surrounding streaming magnetosphere past Titan. In addition, Titan's vast neutral gas environment becomes partly ionized; the created ions are picked up by the induced convection electric field by the streaming magnetospheric plasma and drift away in a gyrating motion, at the same time mass loading the streaming plasma so it slows down in the neighborhood of the moon.

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