Radio Science Investigations of the Saturn System with Voyager 1: Preliminary Results

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Science  10 Apr 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4491, pp. 201-206
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4491.201


Voyager 1 radio occultation measurements of Titan's equatorial atmosphere successfully probed to the surface, which is provisionally placed at a radius of 2570 kilometers. Derived scale heights plus other experimental and theoretical results indicate that molecular nitrogen is the predominant atmospheric constituent. The surface pressure and temperature appear to be about 1.6 bars and 93 K, respectively. The main clouds are probably methane ice, although some condensation of nitrogen cannot be ruled out. Solar abundance arguments suggest and the measurements allow large quantities of surface methane near its triple-point temperature, so that the three phases of methane could play roles in the atmosphere and on the surface of Titan similar to those of water on Earth. Radio occultation measurements of Saturn's atmosphere near 75° south latitude reached a maximum pressure of 1.4 bars, where the temperature is about 156 K. The minimum temperature is about 91 K near the 60-millibar pressure level. The measured part of the polar ionosphere of Saturn has a peak electron concentration of 2.3 x 104 per cubic centimeter at an altitude of 2500 kilometers above the 1-bar level in the atmosphere, and a plasma scale height at the top of the ionosphere of 560 kilometers. Attenuation of monochromatic radiation at a wavelength of 3.6 centimeters propagating obliquely through Saturn's rings is consistent with traditional values for the normal optical depth of the rings, but the near-forward scattering of this radiation by the rings indicates effective scattering particles with larger than expected diameters of 10, 8, and 2 meters in the A ring, the outer Cassini division, and the C ring, respectively. Preliminary analysis of the radio tracking data yields new values for the masses of Rhea and Titan of 4.4 ± 0.3 x 10–6 and 236.64 ± 0.08 x 10–6 times the mass of Saturn. Corresponding values for the mean densities of these objects are 1.33 ± 0.10 and about 1.89 grams per cubic centimeter. The density of Rhea is consistent with a solar-composition mix of anhydrous rock and volatiles, while Titan is apparently enriched in silicates relative to the solar composition.