Probing Titan's atmosphere by stellar occultation

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Abstract

WE report results from the first stellar occultation by Titan ever observed. As predicted by Wasserman1, on 3 July 1989 the bright star 28 Sagittarii (visual magnitude, V ≈ 5.5), passed behind Saturn's giant moon ( V ≈ 8.3), which is the only body in the Solar System that, like the Earth, has a dense, nitrogen-rich atmosphere2. The event, visible from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, allowed us to probe Titan's atmosphere in an altitude range of 250–500 km (a pressure range of 250-1 μbar), where until now, there has been an 'information gap' between infrared and ultraviolet Voyager observations3–5. We also detected a central flash as the centre of Titan's shadow passed at a few tens of kilometres from Paris. This central flash allows us to estimate a finite oblateness of Titan's stratosphere, which could arise from a super-rotation of Titan's atmosphere.

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