NASA Discovers Huge Ice Structure On Titan That Shouldn’t Be There

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is well known throughout the world. It’s the solar system’s second largest naturalsatellite and has been studied in great detail. However, something quite big and rather obvious has just been discovered that wasn’t there before and no one has any idea how it got there.

An Unexpected Ice Belt

It has been discovered that the moon, Titan has a huge ice belt near its equator, and scientists can’t figure out how it got there. Titan is a very cold moon and so the majority of the surface is ice, however, most of this icy surface is covered in organic sediment that constantly rains down from the sky. There’s one part, in particular, that doesn’t quite fit with that description though. There’s a corridor which is about 6,300 kilometers long or equal to around 40 percent of the frigid moon’s circumference that appears to be bare ice with no sediments.

A lot of the cold worlds in the outer solar system, such as Titan, will have ice which acts as bedrock. Saturn’s largest moon also has methane seas and a thick atmosphere full of organic molecules which actually makes it extremely difficult to see down to the surface. There are only a few wavelengths of light that can penetrate that barrier and Caitlin Griffith at the University of Arizona, alongside her colleagues, used data from the Cassini spacecraft to look for signs of exposed water ice on the surface. The spacecraft uses some of those wavelengths which are able to penetrate the haze.

Along with the mysterious 6,300 km ice belt, the team found one particularly icy area which surrounds a 500-meter high mountain called Doom Mons. The mountain was named after Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings. Another area of particularly icy composition was a neighboring pit that’s around 1,500 meters deep.

This isn’t the first time these areas have been investigated by scientists though. In previous observation missions, these particular areas have been noted for possible signs of cryovolcanism. What this means is that they could potentially bring ice up from under the surface. However, the 6,300-kilometer length of straight ice should be buried under hundreds of meters of organic sediment but it clearly isn’t. So why not?

What’s caused this?

No one can say for sure what the cause of this strange ice belt is but there are few theories. Griffith has hypothesized that what everyone is seeing is something that’s a vestige of the past. A time when Titan was quite different. What’s there now can’t explain why the ice belt has occurred. However, past events may be able to. The exposed ice along such a huge distance around the moon could be a sign of Titan’s crust shifting or quaking in the past when it was geologically active.

Furthermore, due to the thick hazy atmosphere, it’s difficult to tell where exactly the ice is, the spacecraft can only show that it is in fact there. For all Griffith and her team know, the ice may be embedded in the side of cliff faces which are exposed by erosion, rather than being flat on the ground where most people would expect it to be and where it normally is. Griffith added that it’s best not to get any hopes up for ice skating. Anyway, it would be one of the worst moons in the solar system to ice skate on due to all the gunk that’s coming down from the atmosphere that might be sticky and gooey so it wouldn’t be much fun to be there.

It might not seem like it, but this discovery could actually be quite significant. There’s a lot of value in finding out more about Titan and it’s past. Scientists have said that if they are able to figure out the distribution of the sediment and why there isn’t any on this ice belt, it could potentially help them learn about Titan’s surface but also help them to learn about the history of its atmosphere. The organic molecules on the surface were once part of the moon’s signature orange haze so it would be good to find out why they started falling to the ground and what their purpose actually is.

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