Plasma Observations Near Saturn: Initial Results from Voyager 1

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Science  10 Apr 1981:
Vol. 212, Issue 4491, pp. 217-224
DOI: 10.1126/science.212.4491.217


Extensive measurements of low-energy plasma electrons and positive ions were made during the Voyager 1 encounter with Saturn and its satellites. The magnetospheric plasma contains light and heavy ions, probably hydrogen and nitrogen or oxygen; at radial distances between 15 and 7 Saturn-radii (Rs) on the inbound trajectory, the plasma appears to corotate with a velocity within 20 percent of that expected for rigid corotation. The general morphology of Saturn's magnetosphere is well represented by a plasma sheet that extends from at least 5 to 17 Rs, is symmetrical with respect to Saturn's equatorial plane and rotation axis, and appears to be well ordered by the magnetic shell parameter L (which represents the equatorial distance of a magnetic field line measured in units of Rs). Within this general configuration, two distinct structures can be identified: a central plasma sheet observed from L = 5 to L = 8 in which the density decreases rapidly away from the equatorial plane, and a more extended structure from L = 7 to beyond 18 Rs in which the density profile is nearly flat for a distance ± 1.8 Rs off the plane and falls rapidly thereafter. The encounter with Titan took place inside the magnetosphere. The data show a clear signature characteristic of the interaction between a subsonic corotating magnetospheric plasma and the atmospheric or ionospheric exosphere of Titan. Titan appears to be a significant source of ions for the outer magnetosphere. The locations of bow shock crossings observed inbound and outbound indicate that the shape of the Saturnian magnetosphere is similar to that of Earth and that the position of the stagnation point scales approximately as the inverse one-sixth power of the ram pressure.

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