'Magic Island' Spotted on Saturn Moon

Mysterious bright spot may be geological activity on Titan
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2014 5:36 PM CDT
This image provided by NASA shows the hazy atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)
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(Newser) – Astronomers are feeling giddy about a flash of light on a very odd moon, phys.org reports. Radar images show that a bright object appeared briefly on Saturn's moon Titan, possible proof of geological activity on a lunar surface that boasts wind, rain, lakes, and seas (though liquid methane and ethane flow there instead of water). Scientists are calling the find a "magic island"—"a colloquial term that we use," said a co-author of a study on the find, reports the BBC. "But we don't actually think it's an island." Whatever it is, scientists say the onset of Titan's summer is likely the cause. Among possible suspects:

  • Winds that create waves on Ligeia Mare, the hydrocarbon lake where the bright object was spotted.
  • Gases rising from the sea floor and bubbling on the surface.
  • Solids sunken during winter, now rising to the surface.

The spot could also be gas bubbling up from an undersea volcanic vent; there's no proof yet of volcanic activity on Titan, but it would explain all the methane there. Understandably, scientists are hungry to see more—like possible summer storms and cyclones, LiveScience reports. "We just must go back to Titan with a dedicated mission, ideally to land in one of Titan's seas—a Titan Sea Probe," said a Titan expert. "And then we can understand what is happening on the seas of this incredible place." (For more on our Solar System, see how Jupiter's red spot is shrinking.)

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