Scientists studying Saturn’s moon Titan have discovered a bizarre, frozen feature that stretches some 6,300 kilometers (3,900 miles) across its tropical region and which might indicate the former existence of an ‘ice volcano.’
Planetary scientist Caitlin Griffith from the University of Arizona led a team which studied the strange formation based on spectral images taken by the Cassini spacecraft, using an infrared spectrometer to pierce the dense, nitrogen-based atmosphere.
“This icy corridor is puzzling, because it doesn’t correlate with any surface features nor measurements of the subsurface,” Griffith says of the long, nearly linear, corridor that stretches 6,300km across the moon.
Their findings indicate “that water ice is unevenly, but not randomly, exposed across Titan’s tropical surface,” she added.
Scientists expected the moon’s surface to be covered in organic sediment that rains down as sunlight breaks up methane molecules in the atmosphere on what Griffith describes as a “deranged version” of Earth, but were surprised to find an icy tendril gripping the space rock around its waist.
The team believes it may be a relic of a bygone era on the satellite.
“It’s possible that we are seeing something that’s a vestige of a time when Titan was quite different,” Griffith told New Scientist. “It can’t be explained by what we see there now.”
The most likely theory is that this is the remnant of a massive, ancient ‘ice volcano’ that produced water, ammonia, or methane instead of the magma we are used to seeing on Earth.
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