Enceladus: The likely dominant nitrogen source in Saturn's magnetosphere

H. T. Smith, R. E. Johnson, E. C. Sittler, M. Shappirio, D. Reisenfeld, O. J. Tucker, M. Burger, F. J. Crary, D. J. McComas, D. T. Young

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37 Scopus citations


The spatial distribution of N+ in Saturn's magnetosphere obtained from Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) data can be used to determine the spatial distribution and relative importance of the nitrogen sources for Saturn's magnetosphere. We first summarize CAPS data from 15 orbits showing the spatial and energy distribution of the nitrogen component of the plasma. This analysis re-enforces our earlier discovery [Smith, H.T., Shappirio, M., Sittler, E.C., Reisenfeld, D., Johnson, R.E., Baragiola, R.A., Crary, F.J., McComas, D.J., Young, D.T., 2005. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32 (14). L14S03] that Enceladus is likely the dominant nitrogen source for Saturn's inner magnetosphere. We also find a sharp enhancement in the nitrogen ion to water ion ratio near the orbit of Enceladus which, we show, is consistent with the presence of a narrow Enceladus torus as described in [Johnson, R.E., Liu, M., Sittler Jr., E.C., 2005. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32. L24201]. The CAPS data and the model described below indicate that N+ ions are a significant fraction of the plasma in this narrow torus. We then simulated the combined Enceladus and Titan nitrogen sources using the CAPS data as a constraint. This simulation is an extension of the model we employed earlier to describe the neutral tori produced by the loss of nitrogen from Titan [Smith, H.T., Johnson, R.E., Shematovich, V.I., 2004. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31 (16). L16804]. We show that Enceladus is the principal nitrogen source in the inner magnetosphere but Titan might account for a fraction of the observed nitrogen ions at the largest distances discussed. We also show that the CAPS data is consistent with Enceladus being a molecular nitrogen source with a nitrogen to water ratio roughly consistent with INMS [Waite, J.H., and 13 colleagues, 2006. Science 311 (5766), 1419-1422], but out-gassing of other nitrogen-containing species, such as ammonia, cannot be ruled out.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-366
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Enceladus
  • Satellites
  • Saturn
  • Titan
  • magnetosphere


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