NASA's Cassini observes volcano-like features near the poles of Saturn’s moon Titan

Researchers think these cryovolcanoes are created as water-ice crust melts into liquid water, which then erupts onto Titan's surface.


In April, analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft found a viable explanation for what's keeping the upper layers of Saturn so very hot. The answer: auroras – similar to those we see near Earth's poles – at the north and south poles of Saturn. Not long ago, another revelation regarding Saturn came to surface.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft managed to see volcano-like features in the polar regions of Saturn's moon Titan. Scientists say this could be evidence of active, explosive eruptions, Phys.org reported.

 NASAs Cassini observes volcano-like features near the poles of Saturn’s moon Titan

Could Titan be home to erupting cryovolcanoes and methane-powered explosions? Scientists aren't ruling out the possibility, based on NASA's Cassini data. Image: Pixabay

According to a recent paper authored by Senior Scientist Charles A Wood at the Planetary Science Institute and coauthor Jani Radebaugh of Brigham Young University, morphological features like nested collapses, elevated ramparts, halos and islands suggest small depressions on Titan, and correspond to craters made from volcanic collapses.

The study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, also revealed that a few similar depressions occur near the south pole of the Saturn's moon.

"The close association of the proposed volcanic craters with polar lakes is consistent with a volcanic origin through explosive eruptions followed by collapse, as either maars or calderas," Wood said.

He added that the freshness of some craters indicate that volcanism has been relatively recently active on the planet’s moon or even continues today.

"We demonstrate that there is also evidence for internal heat, manifest at the surface as cryovolcanoes, made from melting the water ice crust into liquid water that erupts onto Titan's surface," he said.

That these features are at the polar regions, near the lakes of methane, could indicate that methane or another volatile agent can power these explosions, the researchers explain in their paper. These features also appear to be fresh, meaning they could still be forming on Titan today.

Cassini spacecraft catches a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's large moon Titan. Image: NASA

Cassini spacecraft catches a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off the hydrocarbon seas of Saturn's large moon Titan. Image: NASA

A report published in Nature Communications, and detailed by Science News, suggests that peculiar flat regions on Titan could be the dry floors of ancient lakes and seas.

Titan is still currently the only other place in the universe that has liquid on its surface, just like Earth. When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004, it showed that Titan is speckled with lakes and seas. The liquid in them was not water, but ethane and methane.


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