Stability of ice/rock mixtures with application to a partially differentiated Titan

Joseph G. O'Rourke, David J. Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Titan's moment of inertia, calculated assuming hydrostatic equilibrium from gravity field data obtained during the Cassini-Huygens mission, implies an internal mass distribution that may be incompatible with complete differentiation. This suggests that Titan may have a mixed ice/rock core, possibly consistent with slow accretion in a gas-starved disk, which may initially spare Titan from widespread ice melting and subsequent differentiation. A partially differentiated Titan, however, must still efficiently remove radiogenic heat over geologic time. We argue that compositional heterogeneity in the major saturnian satellites indicates that Titan formed from planetesimals with disparate densities. The resulting compositional anomalies would quickly redistribute to form a vertical density gradient that would oppose thermal convection. We use elements of the theory of double-diffusive convection to create a parameterized model for the thermal evolution of ice/rock mixtures with a stabilizing compositional gradient. To account for large uncertainties in material properties and accretionary processes, we perform simulations for a wide range of initial conditions. Ultimately, for realistic density gradients, double-diffusive convection in the ice/rock interior can delay, but not prevent, ice melting and differentiation, even if a substantial fraction of potassium is leached from the rock component. Consequently, Titan is not partially differentiated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Jupiter, satellites
  • Saturn, satellites
  • Thermal histories
  • Titan, interior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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