A model of Titan's aerosols based on measurements made inside the atmosphere

M. G. Tomasko, L. Doose, S. Engel, L. E. Dafoe, R. West, M. Lemmon, E. Karkoschka, C. See

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The descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) instrument aboard the Huygens probe into the atmosphere of Titan measured the brightness of sunlight using a complement of spectrometers, photometers, and cameras that covered the spectral range from 350 to 1600 nm, looked both upward and downward, and made measurements at altitudes from 150 km to the surface. Measurements from the upward-looking visible and infrared spectrometers are described in Tomasko et al. [2008a. Measurements of methane absorption by the descent imager/spectral radiometer (DISR) during its descent through Titan's atmosphere. Planet. Space Sci., this volume]. Here, we very briefly review the measurements by the violet photometers, the downward-looking visible and infrared spectrometers, and the upward-looking solar aureole (SA) camera. Taken together, the DISR measurements constrain the vertical distribution and wavelength dependence of opacity, single-scattering albedo, and phase function of the aerosols in Titan's atmosphere. Comparison of the inferred aerosol properties with computations of scattering from fractal aggregate particles indicates the size and shape of the aerosols. We find that the aggregates require monomers of radius 0.05 μm or smaller and that the number of monomers in the loose aggregates is roughly 3000 above 60 km. The single-scattering albedo of the aerosols above 140 km altitude is similar to that predicted for some tholins measured in laboratory experiments, although we find that the single-scattering albedo of the aerosols increases with depth into the atmosphere between 140 and 80 km altitude, possibly due to condensation of other gases on the haze particles. The number density of aerosols is about 5/cm3 at 80 km altitude, and decreases with a scale height of 65 km to higher altitudes. The aerosol opacity above 80 km varies as the wavelength to the -2.34 power between 350 and 1600 nm. Between 80 and 30 km the cumulative aerosol opacity increases linearly with increasing depth in the atmosphere. The total aerosol opacity in this altitude range varies as the wavelength to the -1.41 power. The single-scattering phase function of the aerosols in this region is also consistent with the fractal particles found above 60 km. In the lower 30 km of the atmosphere, the wavelength dependence of the aerosol opacity varies as the wavelength to the -0.97 power, much less than at higher altitudes. This suggests that the aerosols here grow to still larger sizes, possibly by incorporation of methane into the aerosols. Here the cumulative opacity also increases linearly with depth, but at some wavelengths the rate is slightly different than above 30 km altitude. For purely fractal particles in the lowest few km, the intensity looking upward opposite to the azimuth of the sun decreases with increasing zenith angle faster than the observations in red light if the single-scattering albedo is assumed constant with altitude at these low altitudes. This discrepancy can be decreased if the single-scattering albedo decreases with altitude in this region. A possible explanation is that the brightest aerosols near 30 km altitude contain significant amounts of methane, and that the decreasing albedo at lower altitudes may reflect the evaporation of some of the methane as the aerosols fall into dryer layers of the atmosphere. An alternative explanation is that there may be spherical particles in the bottom few kilometers of the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-707
Number of pages39
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


  • Aerosols
  • Atmosphere
  • Huygens
  • Titan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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    Tomasko, M. G., Doose, L., Engel, S., Dafoe, L. E., West, R., Lemmon, M., Karkoschka, E., & See, C. (2008). A model of Titan's aerosols based on measurements made inside the atmosphere. Planetary and Space Science, 56(5), 669-707. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pss.2007.11.019