Detection of Dynamical Instability in Titan’s Thermospheric Jet

MA Cordiner*, E Garcia-Berrios, RG Cosentino, Nicholas A Teanby, CE Newman, CA Nixon, AE Thelen, SB Charnley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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Similar to Earth, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, possesses a system of high-altitude zonal winds (or jets) that encircle the globe. Using the Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in August 2016, Lellouch et al. (2019) discovered an equatorial jet at much higher altitudes than previously known, with a surprisingly fast speed of up to ∼ 340 m s−1, but the origin of such high velocities is not yet understood. We obtained spectrally and spatially resolved ALMA observations in May 2017 to map Titan’s 3D global wind field and compare our results with a reanalysis of the August 2016 data. Doppler wind velocity maps were derived in the altitude range ∼ 300–1000 km (from the upper stratosphere to the thermosphere). At the highest, thermospheric altitudes, a 47% reduction in the equatorial zonal wind speed was measured over the 9-month period (corresponding to Ls = 82◦–90◦ on Titan). This is interpreted as due to a dramatic slowing and loss of confinement (broadening) of the recently discovered thermospheric equatorial jet, as a result of dynamical instability. These unexpectedly rapid changes in the upper-atmospheric dynamics are consistent with strong variability of the jet’s primary driving mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL12
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2020


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