Articles | Volume 27, issue 2
12 Feb 2009
 | 12 Feb 2009

Titan's plasma environment during a magnetosheath excursion: Real-time scenarios for Cassini's T32 flyby from a hybrid simulation

S. Simon, U. Motschmann, G. Kleindienst, J. Saur, C. L. Bertucci, M. K. Dougherty, C. S. Arridge, and A. J. Coates

Abstract. With a Saturnian magnetopause average stand-off distance of about 21 planetary radii, Titan spends most of its time inside the rotating magnetosphere of its parent planet. However, when Saturn's magnetosphere is compressed due to high solar wind dynamic pressure, Titan can cross Saturn's magnetopause in the subsolar region of its orbit and therefore to interact with the shocked solar wind plasma in Saturn's magnetosheath. This situation has been observed during the T32 flyby of the Cassini spacecraft on 13 June 2007. Until a few minutes before closest approach, Titan had been located inside the Saturnian magnetosphere. During the flyby, Titan encountered a sudden change in the direction and magnitude of the ambient magnetic field. The density of the ambient plasma also increased dramatically during the pass. Thus, the moon's exosphere and ionosphere were exposed to a sudden change in the upstream plasma conditions. The resulting reconfiguration of Titan's plasma tail has been studied in real-time by using a three-dimensional, multi-species hybrid simulation model. The hybrid approximation treats the electrons of the plasma as a massless, charge-neutralizing fluid, while ion dynamics are described by a kinetic approach. In the simulations, the magnetopause crossing is modeled by a sudden change of the upstream magnetic field vector as well as a modification of the upstream plasma composition. We present real-time simulation results, illustrating how Titan's induced magnetotail is reconfigured due to magnetic reconnection. The simulations allow to determine a characteristic time scale for the erosion of the original magnetic draping pattern that commences after Titan has crossed Saturn's magnetopause. Besides, the influence of the plasma composition in the magnetosheath on the reconfiguration process is discussed in detail. The question of whether the magnetopause crossing is likely to yield a detachment of Titan's exospheric tail from the satellite is investigated as well.