Feeds

Titan sprouts 'Magic Island', say astroboffins

Cassini spots something new in the Ligeia Mare as moon's weather turns

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Astroboffins monitoring Titan have spotted something new that hints at how the moon's weather works.

The folks behind the discovery have named the new feature a “magic island”, because nobody knows what it is or why it appeared.

The discovery is detailed in a Nature Geoscience letter titled “Transient features in a Titan sea” that details “bright features in recent Cassini RADAR data that appeared in Titan’s northern sea, Ligeia Mare, in July 2013 and disappeared in subsequent observations.”

As the letter explains, “Titan’s surface–atmosphere system bears remarkable similarities to Earth’s, the most striking being an active, global methane cycle akin to Earth’s water cycle.” Titan's weather is seasonal: different stuff happens in different places depending on the amount of solar energy available. That's important to note because the Cassini probe orbiting Saturn arrived when it was winter in Titan's northern hemisphere. But things are hotting up: there's a solstice up there in 2017.

The magic island is one such phenomenon.

Titan before shot

”Before” shot of Titan, from 2007.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The letter's authors therefore say “the onset of dynamic phenomena in this region is expected” as things get warmer.

titan after shot

”After” shot of Titan, from 2013.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Just what we're seeing is unknown, but lead author and Cornell graduate student Jason Hofgartner offered four ideas:

  • Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.
  • Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.
  • Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of the late Titan spring warmer temperatures.
  • Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.
Titan after shot with circle

The after shot with a red circle showing the important bits

Whatever the cause, the mere fact the feature appeared is being taken as a sign that Titan is alive and kicking. Hofgartner said that gives us a chance to “see the similarities and differences from geological processes that occur here on Earth,” which should “help us to understand better our own liquid environments here on the Earth.”

Cornell reports the discovery was made using the low-tech technique of “flipping” - comparing two photographs by lifting them up and down. That such a process is required to analyse the output of space probes is delightful. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.