Research

Giant ice "corridor" on the satellite of Saturn puzzled scientists

Titan, the largest satellite of the gas giantSaturn, hides many riddles. For a long time, behind the thick haze of its dense nitrogenous atmosphere, one very interesting geological feature hid from the eyes of researchers, which was discovered only now. An article published in the journal Nature Astronomy reports on the presence on the surface of this satellite of a huge ice "corridor", which extends to 6.3 thousand kilometers, which is equal to about 40 circumference of this cosmic body.

On Titan, as on Earth, it rains and there iswhole liquid seas, but they are not filled with water, but methane. Trying to understand its source, the University of Arizona Caitlin Griffith and her team of researchers discovered something incredible — a long ice sheet located in the equatorial region of the satellite and covering almost half of Titan. The “corridor” is located between 30 ° E, 15 ° north latitude and 110 ° E, 15 ° south latitude and has a length of about 6.3 thousand km.

The ice "corridor" is marked in blue.

Many thousands of images helped to identify it.the top layer of the satellite surface, obtained by visible and infrared cartographic spectrometer of the Cassini spacecraft. Thanks to him, scientists were able to detect faint surface signs of organic matter on the surface of Titan.

“This ice corridor is puzzling because it does not correlate with any surface features or subsurface measurements,” commented Griffith.

Researchers point out that they are very surprisedthe existence of such a feature on the satellite surface. At Titan, molecules of atmospheric methane are constantly split by sunlight. The resulting atmospheric haze settles to the surface and accumulates in the form of organic sediments, quickly depleting atmospheric methane.

Scientists can not understand how in this strange,wet and polluted environment, which Griffith describes as “a very unusual version of the Earth”, can fit into a similar geological feature, so they are suspected that in this case it is a “relic of another era of a satellite frozen in time”.

"It is possible that we see somethe geological feature that appeared on the satellite at a time when it was completely different. Given the current environment of Titan, we cannot explain what we see, ”says Griffith.

According to one hypothesis of the researchers, thisThe geologic structure may be the legacy of cryovolcanism occurring on Titan in the past. On the satellite there could be ice volcanoes, water, ammonia or methane emitted into the atmosphere, and not magma as we have on Earth. The Griffith team began to study the composition of the surface of Titan, partly hoping to find thin small cryovolcano candidates. But after analyzing half the surface of the satellite, they did not find anything.

“Considering that our research and past workshow that Titan is currently not volcanically active, the trail of the corridor is probably a remnant of the past. We find this feature on steep slopes, but not on all slopes. This suggests that the ice corridor is currently eroding, potentially revealing the presence of ice and organic layers, ”explains Griffith.

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