NASA Discovers Possible Ice Volcanoes on Saturn Moon Titan

NASA Discovers Possible Ice Volcanoes on Saturn Moon Titan

NASA Discovers Possible Ice Volcanoes on Saturn Moon Titan. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/University of Arizona.

Saturn’s moon Titan may contain ice volcanoes, similar to our Earth volcanoes, according to information from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. New readings of the surface composition and topography are allowing scientists to make new predictions about what exists on bodies located far out in the solar system. Current information shows that these volcano structures erupt with ice instead of molten lava like those on Earth.

The new topographical information was used to create a 3-D map of the Sotra Facula section of Titan. Scientists were surprised to see ground structures that looked surprisingly like famous Earth volcanoes like Iceland’s Laki and Mt. Etna in Italy. Geologists with the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center first analyzed the maps and noticed the resemblance.

Ice volcanoes, also known as cryovolcanoes, have been a topic of debate among scientists for many years. At this point it is believed that underground geological heat melts some of the icy interior of an ice-rich moon. Pressure sends the liquid through icy protrusions in the same way a lava volcano works. However, not all volcanoes on other moons are cryovolcanoes. Volcanoes on Jupiter’s satellite Io erupt with the same silicate lava as on Earth.

Although they are similar in shape, many cryovolcanoes do not look much like the cone shapes of Earthly volcanoes. Saturn’s moon Enceladus features long cracks in the ice that spray plumes of water and ice into the air. Denser material eruptions are more likely to create a traditional volcano shape. The flows created by these cryovolcanoes have been long assumed to be created by river like flows, but the two peaks at Sotra reach over 3000 feet high and have a deep crater in the center.

The Cassini explorer captured new radar information on it’s last trip to Saturn’s moons, and this information was used to create a topographic map and 3-D images of the surface of Titan.

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