Feeds

We've cracked riddle of ANTIGRAVITY mountains on Saturn's Titan - boffins

Underground roots of ice fingered after Cassini probe's bizarre readings

Boost IT visibility and business value

Pic An icy shell around Saturn's largest moon Titan is thicker and tougher than boffins previously thought – and it is concealing a bizarre interior with inward-facing spikes.

ESA's Huygens probe image of a mountain on the surface of Titan

A root mountaintop on Titan. Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA's Cassini space probe buzzed the mysterious heavenly body in February to scan its gravity field. Now researchers, who are poring over the collected data, have theorised that the ice surrounding the moon is likely rigid, with frozen roots jutting through the underlying hidden ocean.

Sensor readings from small peaks on the landscape led planetary scientists Douglas Hemingway and Francis Nimmo from the University of California, Santa Cruz to believe that the shell has inner spikes extending into the moon's interior.

"Normally, if you fly over a mountain, you expect to see an increase in gravity due to the extra mass of the mountain," said Nimmo, a Cassini project scientist. "On Titan, when you fly over a mountain, the gravity gets lower. That's a very odd observation."

The explanation for this gravity shift could be that each mountain is actually the top of these deep roots, which are like icebergs pushing into the interior oceans. Cassini detected a weaker gravitational force because ice is slightly less dense than water (which means, in a given space, there's less mass and therefore less gravitational pull).

"It's like a big beach ball under the ice sheet pushing up on it, and the only way to keep it submerged is if the ice sheet is strong," said Cassini team associate Hemingway, who was lead author on a paper about the findings. "If large roots under the ice shell are the explanation, this means that Titan's ice shell must have a very thick rigid layer."

If the boffins are correct, that means that the tough layer is unlikely to have ice volcanoes, which other scientists have theorised could be responsible for other features on Titan.

The findings also suggest that the ice shell isn't recycled by plate tectonics or convection, like Earth's geologically active crust is. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.