Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Saturn's moon Titan shaped by weather, not ice volcanoes?

Date:
April 11, 2011
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Have the surface and belly of Saturn's smog-shrouded moon, Titan, recently simmered like a chilly, bubbling cauldron with ice volcanoes, or has this distant moon gone cold? In a newly published analysis, scientists analyzing data collected by the Cassini spacecraft suggest Titan may be much less geologically active than some scientists have thought.

Titan and Callisto: These images compare surface features observed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft at the Xanadu region on Saturn's moon Titan (left), and features observed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft on Jupiter's cratered moon Callisto (right).
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Have the surface and belly of Saturn's smog-shrouded moon, Titan, recently simmered like a chilly, bubbling cauldron with ice volcanoes, or has this distant moon gone cold? In a newly published analysis, a pair of NASA scientists analyzing data collected by the Cassini spacecraft suggests Titan may be much less geologically active than some scientists have thought.

Related Articles


In the paper, published in the April 2011 edition of the journal Icarus, scientists conclude Titan's interior may be cool and dormant and incapable of causing active ice volcanoes.

"It would be fantastic to find strong evidence that clearly shows Titan has an internal heat source that causes ice volcanoes and lava flows to form," said Jeff Moore, lead author of the paper and a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "But we find that the evidence presented to date is unconvincing, and recent studies of Titan's interior conducted by geophysicists and gravity experts also weaken the possibility of volcanoes there."

Scientists agree that Titan shows evidence of having lakes of liquid methane and ethane, and valleys carved by these exotic liquids, as well as impact craters. However, a debate continues to brew about how to interpret the Cassini data on Titan. Some scientists theorize ice volcanoes exist and suggest energy from an internal heat source may have caused ice to rise and release methane vapors as it reached Titan's surface.

But in the new paper, the authors conclude that the only features on Titan's surface that have been unambiguously identified were created by external forces -- such as objects hitting the surface and creating craters; wind and rain pummeling its surface; and the formation of rivers and lakes.

"Titan is a fascinating world," said Robert Pappalardo, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and former project scientist for NASA's Cassini mission. "Its uniqueness comes from its atmosphere and organic lakes, but in this study, we find no strong evidence for icy volcanism on Titan."

In December 2010, a group of Cassini scientists presented new topographic data on an area of Titan called Sotra Facula, which they think makes the best case yet for a possible volcanic mountain that once erupted ice on Titan. Although Moore and Pappalardo do not explicitly consider this recent topographic analysis in their paper, they do not find the recent analysis of Sotra Facula to be convincing so far. It remains to be seen whether ongoing analyses of Sotra Facula can change minds.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is the only known moon to have a dense atmosphere, composed primarily of nitrogen, with two to three percent methane. One goal of the Cassini mission is to find an explanation for what, if anything, might be maintaining this atmosphere.

Titan's dense atmosphere makes its surface very difficult to study with visible-light cameras, but infrared instruments and radar signals can peer through the haze and provide information about both the composition and shape of the surface.

"Titan is most akin to Jupiter's moon Callisto, if Callisto had weather," Moore added. "Every feature we have seen on Titan can be explained by wind, rain and meteorite impacts, rather than from internal heating."

Callisto is almost the exact same size as Titan. It has a cratered appearance, and because of its cool interior, its surface features are not affected by internal forces. Moore and Pappalardo conclude that Titan also might have a cool interior, with only external processes like wind, rain and impacts shaping its surface.

The Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn, continues to make fly-bys of Titan. Scientists will continue to explore Titan's mysteries, including investigations of the changes in the landscapes.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and several of its instruments were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Fore more information about possible ice volcanoes on Titan, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-416 and http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2008-237.

For more information about Alan Howard's Landform Evolution Computer Simulation Modeling at the University of Virginia, visit http://erode.evsc.virginia.edu/marsfluv.htm.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Saturn's moon Titan shaped by weather, not ice volcanoes?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110408102443.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2011, April 11). Saturn's moon Titan shaped by weather, not ice volcanoes?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110408102443.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Saturn's moon Titan shaped by weather, not ice volcanoes?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110408102443.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) An invisible barrier is keeping dangerous super fast electrons from interfering with our atmosphere, but scientists aren't entirely sure how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

NASA's First 3-D Printer In Space Creates Its First Object

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) The International Space Station is now using a proof-of-concept 3D printer to test additive printing in a weightless, isolated environment. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Italy's first female astronaut safely docks with the International Space Station, according to NASA. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins