Magic Island Found on Saturn's Moon
With the summer solstice approaching on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, researchers are able to see more features of the landscape, including a bright spot dubbed the "magic island."
This bright object, along with several others, can be found in Titan's hydrocarbon lake Ligeia Mare. It was discovered by researchers aboard the Cassini spacecraft, and is called a "transient feature" since it appeared suddenly and then disappeared in later images. The nature of the "magic island" is unknown, but researchers postulate that it may be a floating chunk of methane, similar to an iceberg. Alternatively, it could be a symptom of the warming of the lake, such as waves or bubbles. The existence of the magic island is the first piece of evidence that lakes on Titan respond to warming in a similar manner to terrestrial lakes. All other observations of Titan's lakes indicated that they were extremely smooth, which was confounding to scientists considering the presence of wind-driven geological features such as dunes.
The summer solstice gives researchers unique opportunities for observation. "Now that we're going into the summer solstice, we're looking to find whatever active processes might be powered by the [sun]," said lead author of < a href="http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo2190.html">the study Jason Hofgartner, a graduate student at Cornell University. "This is some of the best science ever to come out [of] Titan, and we still have three more years to make discoveries."
Titan is the only other body in the solar system with rivers, lakes, and small oceans besides Earth. But unlike the bodies on Earth, which consist of water, the bodies on Titan consist of methane and ethane. Scientists believe that the summer solstice may lead to the release of gases or pieces of methane ice, as well as weather events such as tropical storms.
"Likely, several different processes - such as wind, rain and tides - might affect the methane and ethane lakes on Titan," said Mr Hofgartner. "We want to see the similarities and differences from geological processes that occur here on Earth. Ultimately, it will help us to understand better our own liquid environments."