Researchers find ice feature on Saturn’s giant moon

Related Articles

Related Articles

Rain, seas and a surface of eroding organic material can be found both on Earth and on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. However, on Titan it is methane, not water, that fills the lakes with slushy raindrops.

While trying to find the source of Titan’s methane, University of Arizona researcher Caitlin Griffith and her team discovered something unexoldpected – a long ice feature that wraps nearly half way around Titan.

Griffith, a professor in the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, is the lead author on the paper published today in Nature Astronomy.

On Titan, atmospheric methane molecules are continuously broken apart by sunlight. The resulting atmospheric haze settles to the surface and accumulates as organic sediments, rapidly depleting the atmospheric methane.

This organic veneer is made up of the material of past atmospheres.

There is no obvious source of methane, except from the evaporation of methane from the polar lakes. But Titan’s lakes contain only one-third of the methane in Titan’s atmosphere and will be exhausted soon by geological time scales.


Subscribe to more articles like this by following our Google Discovery feed - Click the follow button on your desktop or the star button on mobile. Subscribe

One theory is that the methane could be supplied by subsurface reservoirs that vent methane into the atmosphere. Prior studies of Titan indicate the presence of a singular region called Sotra, which looks like cryo-volcano, with icy flow features.

Griffith’s team set out to study the composition of Titan’s surface, partly hoping to find subtle small cryo-volcanos candidates. They analyzed half of Titan’s surface and none were detected, but Sotra was found to be exceptional in that it exhibits the strongest ice features.

Yet the major ice feature the researchers found was completely unexpected. It consists of a linear ice corridor that wraps around 40 percent of Titan’s circumference.

“This icy corridor is puzzling, because it doesn’t correlate with any surface features nor measurements of the subsurface,” Griffith said. “Given that our study and past work indicate that Titan is currently not volcanically active, the trace of the corridor is likely a vestige of the past. We detect this feature on steep slopes, but not on all slopes. This suggests that the icy corridor is currently eroding, potentially unveiling presence of ice and organic strata.”

The team’s analysis also indicates a diversity of organic material in certain regions. These surface deposits are of interest because laboratory simulations of Titan’s atmosphere produce biologically interesting compounds such as amino acids.

This figure shows 3 orientations of Titan’s globe. Mapped in blue is the icy corridor.
CREDIT –  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Griffith analyzed tens of thousands of spectral images taken of the topmost layer of the surface by Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, using a method that enabled the detection of weak surface features.

This feat was accomplished by Griffith’s application of the principal components analysis, or PCA. It allowed her to tease out subtle features caused by ice and organic sediments on Titan’s surface from the ubiquitous haze and more obvious surface features. Instead of measuring the surface features individually for each pixel in an image, the PCA uses all of the pixels to recognize the main and more subtle signatures.

Griffith’s team compared their results with past studies including the Huygens probe, which landed on Titan in 2005. The comparison validated both the technique and the results. Plans are underway to use the technique to explore the poles where methane seas reside.

“Both Titan and Earth followed different evolutionary paths, and both ended up with unique organic-rich atmospheres and surfaces,” Griffth said. “But it is not clear whether Titan and Earth are common blueprints of the organic-rich of bodies or two among many possible organic-rich worlds.”

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA

Header Image – Public Domain

- Advertisement -

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Kerguelen Oceanic Plateau Sheds Light on the Formation of Continents

How did the continents form? Although to a certain extent this remains an open question, the oceanic plateau of the Kerguelen Islands may well provide part of the answer, according to a French-Australian team led by the Géosciences Environnement Toulouse laboratory.

Ancient Societies Hold Lessons for Modern Cities

Today's modern cities, from Denver to Dubai, could learn a thing or two from the ancient Pueblo communities that once stretched across the southwestern United States. For starters, the more people live together, the better the living standards.

Volubilis – The Ancient Berber City

Volubilis is an archaeological site and ancient Berber city that many archaeologists believe was the capital of the Kingdom of Mauretania.

Pella – Birthplace of Alexander The Great

Pella is an archaeological site and the historical capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon.

New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group

Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.

High-tech CT reveals ancient evolutionary adaptation of extinct crocodylomorphs

The tree of life is rich in examples of species that changed from living in water to a land-based existence.

Fish fossils become buried treasure

Rare metals crucial to green industries turn out to have a surprising origin. Ancient global climate change and certain kinds of undersea geology drove fish populations to specific locations.

Archaeologists Discover Viking Toilet in Denmark

Archaeologists excavating a settlement on the Stevns Peninsula in Denmark suggests they have discovered a toilet from the Viking Age.

Innovation by ancient farmers adds to biodiversity of the Amazon, study shows

Innovation by ancient farmers to improve soil fertility continues to have an impact on the biodiversity of the Amazon, a major new study shows.

Lost Shiva Temple Buried in Sand Discovered by Local Villagers

Villagers from the Perumallapadu village in the Pradesh’s Nellore district of India have unearthed the 300-year-old Temple of Nageswara Swamy on the banks of the Penna River.

Popular stories