Variations in rotation rate and polar motion of a non-hydrostatic Titan

Alexis Coyette, Rose-Marie Baland, Tim Van Hoolst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observation of the rotation of synchronously rotating satellites can help to probe their interior. Previous studies mostly assume that these large icy satellites are in hydrostatic equilibrium, although several measurements indicate that they deviate from such a state. Here we investigate the effect of non-hydrostatic equilibrium and of flow in the subsurface ocean on the rotation of Titan. We consider the variations in rotation rate and the polar motion due to (1) the gravitational force exerted by Saturn at orbital period and (2) exchanges of angular momentum between the seasonally varying atmosphere and the solid surface. The deviation of the mass distribution from hydrostaticity can significantly increase the diurnal libration and decrease the amplitude of the seasonal libration. The effect of the non-hydrostatic mass distribution is less important for polar motion, which is more sensitive to flow in the subsurface ocean. By including a large spectrum of atmospheric perturbations, the smaller than synchronous rotation rate measured by Cassini in the 2004–2009 period (Meriggiola et al., 2016) could be explained by the atmospheric forcing. If our interpretation is correct, we predict a larger than synchronous rotation rate in the 2009–2014 period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-105
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Interior structure
  • Libration
  • Titan

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