Articles | Volume 27, issue 9
01 Sep 2009
 | 01 Sep 2009

Real-time 3-D hybrid simulation of Titan's plasma interaction during a solar wind excursion

S. Simon

Abstract. The plasma environment of Saturn's largest satellite Titan is known to be highly variable. Since Titan's orbit is located within the outer magnetosphere of Saturn, the moon can leave the region dominated by the magnetic field of its parent body in times of high solar wind dynamic pressure and interact with the thermalized magnetosheath plasma or even with the unshocked solar wind. By applying a three-dimensional hybrid simulation code (kinetic description of ions, fluid electrons), we study in real-time the transition that Titan's plasma environment undergoes when the moon leaves Saturn's magnetosphere and enters the supermagnetosonic solar wind. In the simulation, the transition between both plasma regimes is mimicked by a reversal of the magnetic field direction as well as a change in the composition and temperature of the impinging plasma flow. When the satellite enters the solar wind, the magnetic draping pattern in its vicinity is reconfigured due to reconnection, with the characteristic time scale of this process being determined by the convection of the field lines in the undisturbed plasma flow at the flanks of the interaction region. The build-up of a bow shock ahead of Titan takes place on a typical time scale of a few minutes as well. We also analyze the erosion of the newly formed shock front upstream of Titan that commences when the moon re-enters the submagnetosonic plasma regime of Saturn's magnetosphere. Although the model presented here is far from governing the full complexity of Titan's plasma interaction during a solar wind excursion, the simulation provides important insights into general plasma-physical processes associated with such a disruptive change of the upstream flow conditions.