Scientists Find a Massive Ice Corridor on Titan

Scientists Find a Massive Ice Corridor on Titan

Scientists Find a Massive Ice Corridor on Titan
Image Credits: Universe Today

Researchers have discovered a mighty ice corridor (spread across 6,300 kilometers) on the surface of Titan by making use of the Principal Component Analysis.

Titan seems to have developed a habit of surprising us with its amazing secrets. The most recent addition, to this list, is the discovery of a huge strip of ice known as an ice corridor (ice feature). It stretches around the planet for about 4,000 miles, which accounts for nearly half of Titan’s circumference.

Titan, the Icy Goliath

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn and is the second largest moon in our Solar System. It is also the only known moon to have a dense atmosphere. Titan earns its name well, being 50% larger than Earth’s moon. It was discovered by Christian Huygens in 1655 and was the first moon of Saturn to be discovered. The massive moon is mainly composed of rocks and ice with a dense atmosphere primarily composed of Nitrogen. Surprisingly, the climate of Titan (comprising mainly of wind and rain) creates surface features similar to those of Earth, such as dunes, rivers, lakes, seas, and deltas.

Discovery of the Ice Corridor

The latest discovery was made by using the data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which spent nearly 13 years studying the Saturn system before diving headfirst into the planet to destroy itself. Jani Radebaugh, a Planetary Scientist at the Brigham Young University, praised the efforts of the Cassini Mission and said,

“It’s a good example of how we’re doing really well at continuing to mine these amazing Cassini data for new results. We’re far from being finished with understanding Titan to the degree we can with Cassini. What we’re curious about is, beyond that global gentle snowfall of organics, what’s happening? It can be really hard to see through that layer to be able to see what’s going on.”

Researchers used a technique called Principal Component Analysis, which allowed them to pick up on smaller elements in the data that might get overlooked otherwise. The researching team only explored a specific part of the ice patch, between 30 degrees north and south latitude. The idea behind the research was to get a perspective of the distribution of ice compared to the number of organics found on the surface.

Features of the Ice Corridor

Caitlin Griffith, the Lead Author of the paper, explained that it was quite hard to extract data from the very weak features and subtle hints found on Titan. They believe that more research is needed to reveal what exactly caused the massive ice corridor on Titan’s surface. However, they are confident that the icy feature is slowly eroding and it isn’t uniformly distributed across the surface.

Some of the regions where the team found water ice were expected to be a part of a large cryovolcano that once erupted liquid water across the surface of Titan. Contrary to that, no one was expecting to find a massive ice corridor and that too in the same analysis. Griffith compared the massive ice formation as a scar and said scientists are unsure what that icy patch represents or even if it’s composed of water or not. It is, however, believed that the icy corridor will tell us something useful about Titan’s past. Having said that, the chances of that are not very bright because the surface seems too complicated, at this point, to gather any valuable data.

Massive Faults

Radebaugh believes that the massive ice corridor could have been caused by massive faults in the surface of Titan, which assisted the water to rush upwards from the bedrock. It has always been believed that Titan does not have plate tectonics and a contradiction to this theory will raise a whole lot of new questions for scientists. Radebaugh referred to that by saying,

“Tectonism on Titan in some ways has taken a little bit of a back seat just because we see all of these surface processes—the fluid flow, the erosion, the wind deposits, and all of those kinds of things. These surface processes, those things are sort of in your face. We need to remember that there’s a very interesting, a possibly active, lithosphere beneath that as well.”

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