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Composition and chemistry of Titan's thermosphere and ionosphere

Abstract : Titan has long been known to harbour the richest atmospheric chemistry in the Solar System. Until recently, it had been believed that complex hydrocarbons and nitriles were produced through neutral chemistry that would eventually lead to the formation of micrometre sized organic aerosols. However, recent measurements by the Cassini spacecraft are drastically changing our understanding of Titan's chemistry. The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) and the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) revealed an extraordinary complex ionospheric composition. INMS detected roughly 50 positive ions with m/z<100 and a density higher than 0.1 cm−3. CAPS provided evidence for heavy (up to 350 amu) positively and negatively charged (up to 4000 amu) ions. These observations all indicate that Titan's ionospheric chemistry is incredibly complex and that molecular growth starts in the upper atmosphere rather than at lower altitude. Here, we review the recent progress made on ionospheric chemistry. The presence of heavy neutrals in the upper atmosphere has been inferred as a direct consequence of the presence of complex positive ions. Benzene (C6H6) is created by ion chemistry at high altitudes and its main photolysis product, the phenyl radical (C6H5), is at the origin of the formation of aromatic species at lower altitude.
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Contributor : Béatrice Pibaret-Bourdon <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, March 4, 2009 - 11:06:09 AM
Last modification on : Friday, September 25, 2020 - 11:20:12 AM

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Véronique Vuitton, R. V. Yelle, Panayotis Lavvas. Composition and chemistry of Titan's thermosphere and ionosphere. Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society A, 2009, 367 (1889), pp.729-741. ⟨10.1098/rsta.2008.0233⟩. ⟨insu-00365693⟩



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