Constraints on Titan rotation from Cassini radar

Monday, 15 December 2014
Bruce G Bills1, Bryan W Stiles1 and Randolph L Kirk2, (1)NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
We give an update on efforts to model the rotation of Titan, subject to constraints from Cassini radar observations. The data we are currently using includes 670 tie-points, each of which is a pair of inertial positions of a single surface point, relative to the center of mass of Titan, and the corresponding pair of observation times. The positional accuracy is of order 1 km, in each Cartesian component.

A reasonably good fit to the observations is obtained with a simple model which has a fixed spin pole and a rotation rate which is a sum of a constant value and a single sinusoidal oscillation.

A better fit is obtained if we insist that Titan should behave as a synchronous rotator, in the dynamical sense of keeping its axis of least inertia oriented toward Saturn. At the level of accuracy required to fit the Cassini radar data, synchronous rotation is notably different than having a uniform rate of rotation. In this case, we need to model time variations in the orbital mean longitude, which is the longitude of periapse, plus the mean anomaly. That angle varies on a wide range of times scales, including Titan’s periapse precession period (703 years), Saturn’s heliocentric orbital period (29.47 years), perturbations from relatively large satellites Iapetus (79.3 days), and a 4:3 mean motion resonant interaction with Hyperion (640 and 6850 days), and a linear increase at Titan’s mean orbital period (15.9455 day). Our rotation model for Titan has 4 free parameters. Two of them specify the orientation of the fixed spin pole, and the other two are the effective free libration period and viscous damping time.

Our dynamical model includes a damped forced longitudinal libration, in which gravitational torques attempt to align the axis of least inertia with the instantaneous direction to Saturn. For a rigid tri-axial body, with Titan’s moments of inertia, the free oscillation period for longitudinal librations would be 850 days. For a decoupled elastic shell, the effective period is likely somewhat less. Variations in angular position of Saturn, as seen from Titan, with periods shorter than the free libration period, will not be accurately tracked. Thus the short period (one and two cycles per orbit) forced librations will be very small (~50 m), and are, in any event, not well sampled in the data.