'Ice Volcanoes' Spotted on Titan

'We finally have some proof that Titan is an active world'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2010 4:33 AM CST
Scientists say the "ice volcanoes" spotted on Titan, including thus one shown in a radar mapping image from Cassini, strongly resemble volcanoes on Earth like Mt. Etna in Italy.   (AP Photo/NASA)

(Newser) – Scientists say they've seen the clearest evidence yet that volcanoes sprout from Titan's icy surface, though a probe may need to land on the Saturn moon should they want to know exactly what the "cryovolcanoes" are spewing out. Three peaks and pits spotted by the Cassini probe are "a combination of features that you really can’t make any way other than volcanism,” a geophysicist on the Cassini team says. "We finally have some proof that Titan is an active world.”

Researchers aren't sure how active the cryovolcanoes are, or whether they spew forth water and ammonia or hydrocarbons, which would give the "lava" the consistency of candle wax and potentially provide evidence of life. "Volcanoes on Earth are destroyers of life,” a planetary scientist tells Wired. “But on Titan, cryovolcanism could represent perhaps the very liquids that would form the habitat for life, and very conveniently for us, the means by which these very speculative life forms are brought to the surface and made accessible.” (Click for more on Saturn, and its mysterious rings.)

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