Astronomers have discovered a bright, mysterious geologic object – where one never existed – on Saturn’s moon Titan. Dubbed “Magic Island”, this “transient feature” is located in Ligeia Mare, the second-largest sea on Titan.
“This discovery tells us that the liquids in Titan’s northern hemisphere are not simply stagnant and unchanging, but rather that changes do occur,” said Jason Hofgartner, a Cornell University graduate student in the field of planetary sciences, and lead author of the paper published in Nature Geoscience.
Astronomers relied on an old technique called flipping to discover the Magic Island. Flipping between data sent through by the Cassini spacecraft on 10 July 2013 and older Titan images, Hofgartner and his colleagues found that prior to July 2013, Ligeia Mare had been completely devoid of features, including waves.
The astronomers think the strange feature may result from the changing of seasons on the moon’s northern hemisphere, in this instance, from spring to summer.
The researchers concluded that there are four likely explanations for the Magic Island: one is that the Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare; another is that there are bubbles rising up from the sea floor; third is that sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of warmer temperatures during the late Titan spring; and lastly, that Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.
Source: Cornell University