Cassini Captures Photos of Magic Island on Saturn's Moon Titan
The Cassini spacecraft has taken more photos of a feature in Titan's sea that has baffled scientists for over a year now.
The feature, often called a "magic island," was not present in Cassini observations of the area from 2007 to 2009, but was first observed in 2013. Researchers concluded that it was a transient feature when further observation over the next several months failed to capture images of the feature. These new images from Cassini shows that it is still there, but its appearance has changed significantly since it was last observed.
In these photos, the dark areas represent the sea, which do not consist of water, but of methane and ethane, while the light areas represent land. According to NASA, "These three images, created from Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, show the appearance and evolution of a mysterious feature in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's moon Titan. The views, taken during three different Cassini flybys of Titan, show that this feature was not visible in earlier radar images of the same region and its appearance changed between 2013 and 2014."
This observation also virtually confirms that the feature is not simply a human error flaw in the data, which was one previously proposed explanation. NASA scientists are investigating other possible explanations, such as surface waves, rising bubbles, floating solids, and suspended solids below the surface. But for now, the nature of the feature is entirely unknown.
"Science loves a mystery, and with this enigmatic feature, we have a thrilling example of ongoing change on Titan," said deputy team leader Stephen Wall. "We're hopeful that we'll be able to continue watching the changes unfold and gain insights about what's going on in that alien sea."