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Space Science

Possible Cryovolcano Discovered on Titan 116

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the cold-showers dept.
Rei writes "NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is reporting that the Cassini spacecraft has observed what appears to be a cryovolcano on Saturn's moon Titan. Given the absense of a global methane sea on Titan, the snail-shaped structure with what appears to be a caldera on top could explain how Titan's methane stays replenished. It could further explain the dry drainage channels discovered by the Huygens lander as being formed by heavy methane rainfall after eruptions."
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Possible Cryovolcano Discovered on Titan

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  • by hostyle (773991) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:15AM (#12778391)
    Excellent, just what the Galaxy needs - a farting moon.
  • Caldera? (Score:5, Funny)

    by beacher (82033) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:18AM (#12778397) Homepage
    " appears to be a caldera on top could explain how Titan's methane stays replenished" I thought it was after the Canopy group acquired Caldera that the hot air came forth.... hrm. It would explain the drainage too...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:19AM (#12778398)
    Maybe it's a $cientology Dianetics franchise? They always use (Xenu) volcanoes in their advertising.
  • Titan Climatology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poopdeville (841677) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:20AM (#12778403)
    Unlike terrestrial volcanic mounds, which are formed by the upwelling of lava, the hypothesis is that this feature is probably formed by plumes of frozen methane, forced from underground, which then slowly evaporate into methane gas. This would explain the abundance of methane in the Titan atmosphere. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a substantial atmosphere, a thick mix of nitrogen and methane. It is suspected to be undergoing chemical reactions similar to those that unfolded on Earth billions of years ago. That process eventually provided the conditions for life on our planet. Scientists have long pondered the source of Titan's methane, given that this chemical should have been degraded by the weak light from the Sun within a hundred million years or so.
    • by m50d (797211) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:28AM (#12778417) Homepage Journal
      You mean it's not just leaking out from all the créme bruleé?
    • Re:Titan Climatology (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RobotWisdom (25776)
      This makes no sense to me-- if it's frozen then it's solid, but a volcano has to be liquid. If I imagine a slushy liquid welling up and bursting thru a solid crust, is it convection due to density differences? And what's the heat source underground? Radioactivity? Tides???
      • Re:Titan Climatology (Score:5, Informative)

        by youngerpants (255314) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:44AM (#12778455)
        Not necessarily, pyroclastic flows on Earth are flows of solid matter (rocks) that can occur during periods of volcanic activity.


        Although they are made out of "solid" matter the flows seem almost liquid in nature. Don't think of the methane as one huge frozen lump, but rather many solid lumps in motion.

      • Its likely due to a pressure build up. They don't yet know what the energy source is though inferring from TFA they seem to think that it is tidal forces.

        So intense tidal forces agitate a (mostly) solid methane well, which imparts heat, which causes it to melt, which increases the pressure, which causes an eruption.

        Either that or it just had too many beans
        • Re:Titan Climatology (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          While a lot of things are possible (at least until we have more data), most of these gas giant moons seem to derive whatever internal heat they have from tidal deformation. It's the same thing that happens when you take a wire and bend it back and forth really fast.

          I haven't seen the numbers crunched that would tell how much energy Titan could derive from it's orbital eccentricity, but it wouldn't take much to drive methane ice at cryogenic temperatures.
      • Did you ever drank a granita [mondogelato.com]?
      • Re:Titan Climatology (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mikael (484)
        The force of gravity pulling the moon together causes pressure at the core (See Pascal's law [answers.com]) This pressure (thousands if not millions times Earth's atmospheric pressure), gets converted into heat, which then causes convection and volcanoes. Some heat is also generated by the moon rotating within Saturn's gravitational field.

        • Nope, if pressure caused heat, you could do perpetual motion. A molecule gains KE as it falls towards another mass, but that just dissipates.
          • This is correct I believe. KE for these purposes is heat. Take, for example, a container full of air. Each molecule has it's own kinetic energy. We can measure the average of the molecules' energy by sticking a thermometer into the container and seeing what it says as the molecules collide with it.

            Through the laws of entropy the energy will be dispearsed relatively evenly throughout the container. Each collision on the thermometer emparts some of its kinetic energy.

            If you take that same container and red

          • It's not pressure that causes heat. Rather, an increase of pressure causes an increase of temperature. In this case, the increase in pressure is the gradual gravitational coalescing of Titan from whatever material it is composed of.

            Having said that, I suspect that this is not the mechanism that heats Titan. I have no expertise in solar system physics, but I would guess that the tidal forces from Saturn and radioactive decay in Titan's core each must contribute more to Titan's heat than gravitational se

            • I don't think increase in pressure necessarily leads to a increase in temperature. Remember liquid methane is not an ideal gas.

              I could be wrong (about the first part anyway.) Feel free to correct me if that's the case.
              • True. I'm no chemist, but I think under the tremendous pressures at the core of a planet/moon, things act more like gases than we're accustomed to. For instance, Earth is denser than Mercury even though Mercury has more iron. Why is that? Because the Earth's pressure is higher, making our iron more dense than Mercury's.

                It's a weird world down there.

          • Heat is simply the infra-red range of the electromagnetic spectrum. As the atoms under pressure collide, individual electrons collide, and give out the occasional photon. Eventually, the energy in the system would be lost at the surface through black body radiation and evaporation (unless it is a closed system).

            Most volcanoes on Earth are powered by gas pressure contained by rock. Wouldn't the same thing happen on Titan with ice rather than rock?

    • by amightywind (691887) on Friday June 10, 2005 @08:45AM (#12778850) Journal

      Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a substantial atmosphere

      Triton, Neptune's large moon also has a substantial Nitrogen atmosphere, enough to entrain geyser plumes [nasa.gov] that move downwind. Ganymede has a thin atmosphere as well.

      the hypothesis is that this feature is probably formed by plumes of frozen methane, forced from underground, which then slowly evaporate into methane gas.

      It will be interesting to see what style of volcanism dominates on Titan - "cryoclastic" eruptions of methane gas and ammonia-hydrate ice crystals, or gooey water/hydrocarbon flows. The light colored lobate features surrounding the caldera in the TIMS image suggests the later. The apparent ring faults surrounding the caldera also suggest that this is a shield profile volcano built by effusive eruptions. It will be interesting to measure its profile with Cassini's radar to find out for sure.

      • Triton, Neptune's large moon also has a substantial Nitrogen atmosphere, enough to entrain geyser plumes that move downwind. Ganymede has a thin atmosphere as well.

        Titan's atmosphere is much, much thicker than the atmosphere on Triton, Ganymede, or Enceladus. These other moons have atmospheres but they are much thinner than even Mars' atmosphere. Hence the 'substantial' qualifier about Titan's atmosphere (which is thicker than Earth's).
        • These other moons have atmospheres but they are much thinner than even Mars' atmosphere. Hence the 'substantial' qualifier about Titan's atmosphere (which is thicker than Earth's).

          Nonetheless, any moon (Triton) where particles can move downwind qualifies as a substantial atmosphere in my book.

          • So, then, you count our moon as having an atmosphere. The solar wind blows sparse gas and statically-charged dust across it's surface (creating what look almost like faint clouds or aurora at times).
            • So, then, you count our moon as having an atmosphere. The solar wind blows sparse gas and statically-charged dust across it's surface (creating what look almost like faint clouds or aurora at times).

              Not at all. The motion of such lunar dust particles is electrodynamic. The motion of Triton's geyser plumes are thermodynamic and fluid based. They are entirely different phenomena.

              • Triton's plumes are hardly "fluid" in any normal sense, given how thin they are. Scientific models of Triton's geysers are still very vague (there's even a chance that they're really more like dust devils), so what makes you so sure of how they work?

                And why the distinction on electrostatically propelled wind? Most "tenous atmosphere" bodies in the solar system have a lot of charged particles in their atmosphere that are propelled by the solar wind, as do the exospheres of the dense-atmospheric bodies.
                • Triton's plumes are hardly "fluid" in any normal sense, given how thin they are. Scientific models of Triton's geysers are still very vague (there's even a chance that they're really more like dust devils), so what makes you so sure of how they work?

                  The literature is quite substantial. Check this [harvard.edu] out. Your suggestion that these are dust devils is absurd. Dust devils that linger for days over a light colored vent, on a moon where the atmospheric pressure is so low that saltation velocity is greater than

          • Nonetheless, any moon (Triton) where particles can move downwind qualifies as a substantial atmosphere in my book.

            What about Iapetus? It has what looks like wind blown streaks, but it doesn't appear to have an atmosphere.
            • What about Iapetus? It has what looks like wind blown streaks, but it doesn't appear to have an atmosphere.

              Iapetus, Dione, Rhea all have bright wispy terrains that may have an impact or tectonic origin. There is no evidence at all that these features were disbursed by an atmosphere. But Triton's dark geyser plumes have been observed actively rising and disbursing downwind at altitude.

    • Titan has an ammonia-water sea under its crust... a crust that is covered by heaping mounds of complex hydrocarbons. Around these volcanoes, this liquid water is mixing with a lot of complex organic molecules... Who knows what sort of crazy stuff will happen when you mix water and complex organic molecules :)

      These ice volcanoes would be very interesting places to visit. :)
  • Caldera (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Ahhhh, so that's where OpenLinux is being used
  • Guess what... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Trollstoi (888703) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:42AM (#12778447) Homepage
    ... methane can be found at Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania... Neptune, Titan...
    astronomy dominee [wikipedia.org]
  • A face maybe? They can call the volcano region "cryodonia"!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I bet schools close a lot there.

    "The forecast today is for periods of clear nitrogen, followed by an earthquake, the raining methane for the rest of the afternoon. Film at eleven."
  • Its snowcone factory :D
  • by httpamphibio.us (579491) on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:57AM (#12778483)
    "Cryovolcanoes are pseudo-volcanoes believed to be present on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. Unlike volcanoes on Earth which spew hot lava, cryvolcanoes bring super-cool "lava" to the surface of their planets. They are volcanic-like vents that spew forth ice, water or vapor-phase volatiles, with some gas driven solid fragments instead of lava. It is suggetsed that they could be present on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. However it has only been seen on Triton, the biggest of Neptune's moons. Also it is said that they might be active in Europa and Enceladus.

    This term was coined by NASA in late 2004, when the Cassini space probe observed cryvolcanoes and cryogenic lakes for the first time."


    definition quoted from explore-dictionary.com [explore-dictionary.com]
    • This term was coined by NASA in late 2004, when the Cassini space probe observed cryvolcanoes and cryogenic lakes for the first time."

      They may have coined the term, but there's a Dr. Who story where the Doctor uses the "lava" from something very similar to freeze a huge Dalek force. Planet of the Daleks, I think it was, back in about '73. Definitely a Pertwee one, even if I've got the name wrong.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A cryovolcano. That's hot.
  • by Chris84000000 (735658) <chris@connet[ ]et ['t.n' in gap]> on Friday June 10, 2005 @06:59AM (#12778492) Homepage

    Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day [nasa.gov] show a nice picture of this.

    If you're interested in this stuff, bookmark http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html [nasa.gov], which just points to the current picture of the day.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A lightsabre battle, while ice-skating on a frozen planet.
  • by lheal (86013) <lheal1999@yahoo.LISPcom minus language> on Friday June 10, 2005 @07:14AM (#12778523) Journal
    to the phrase "titanic methane eruption".

  • by panurge (573432) on Friday June 10, 2005 @07:27AM (#12778556)
    I'm sure Exxon would confirm we need the natural gas before we run out of stuff to help keep our planet warm and fend off those pesky ice ages, during which even the biggest SUV would find it hard to get out of the drive, which would have major adverse effects on junior soccer leagues.

    Meanwhile, the idiots on these remote asteroids have volcanos and seas full of the stuff and are doing absolutely nothing to exploit it.

    Rummy really needs to get out there with some ex-military contractors and get started on the pipeline. Looks like there's not too much risk of anyone firing RPGs at the construction force, either.

    • What a hoot! It's so funny that every time there's an article that mentions hydrocarbons of any kind, we can use it to show how the administration is personally stealing oil and putting in big secret tanks that they'll only share with their rich children!

      Honestly, I thought that the abbreviation "M$" was the funniest thing I'd ever seen, but this is much, much better.
      • You're wrong about the big secret tanks, the oil the administrations companies now have control of is sold to make money and used to affect oil prices in general ensuring all oil companies make as much money as they can.
      • Flamebait? Heh! Responding to brilliant snippets like:

        Meanwhile, the idiots on these remote asteroids have volcanos and seas full of the stuff and are doing absolutely nothing to exploit it.

        Rummy really needs to get out there with some ex-military contractors and get started on the pipeline. Looks like there's not too much risk of anyone firing RPGs at the construction force, either


        which even picked up a nice little Troll mod, and I'm the one writing flamebait? Well, at least I'm seeing a 100% fla
    • maybe the pipeline can double as a space elevator?
  • by IsleOfView (23825) <slashfu.mugfu@com> on Friday June 10, 2005 @07:42AM (#12778611) Homepage
    I originally read that headline as "Possible Cryptovolcano Discovered on Titan", and found myself oddly excited -- even if I have no idea what a Cryptovolcano might be.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2005 @08:06AM (#12778667)
    Doesn't it seem like sometimes science is just making shit up?
  • by Attila (23211) on Friday June 10, 2005 @08:43AM (#12778836)
    Shape of... an ice volcano!
  • caldera (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 10, 2005 @08:59AM (#12778920)

    Given the absense of a global methane sea on Titan, the snail-shaped structure with what appears to be a caldera on top could explain how Titan's methane stays replenished.

    Having not known that 'caldera' was anything other than sco's former name, I of course looked it up in wikipedia:

    A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself.

    It seems like sco should have stayed with this name, it's much more apropos.

  • This word is used in the article but if you look it up in online dictionaries there are no results. This is not some exestantion joke. I am serious. There is a word "absence" but not "absense"
  • by filthy-raj (581774) on Friday June 10, 2005 @10:26AM (#12779631)

    I don't know why this hasn't received more coverage: Iapetus [enterprisemission.com]

    Maybe you've all seen this already, so I don't know if anyone cares. Basically, Iapetus is not spherical! It is an enormous Buckmister-Fuller skeletal structure! It has also been observed from earth (with radio telescopes) to have a dull, uniform radar signature despite its obvious surface features - but consistent with its unusual, non-spherical geometry. ie: it's stealthy!

    There is a 60 000 foot high 'wall' around its equator - perfectly around its equator. This is an impossibly coincidental geological feature. But again, it is empirically consistent with a gradual surface erosion which will reveal an underlying bucky-fuller skeleton.

    What could very possibly be an alien artefact has been hushed up. NASA continually draws more attention to Titan, but it's the outermost Iapetus that is far more intriguing. If it wasn't so, how come NASA has scheduled an originally unplanned second flyby?! No, I am not wearing a tin-foil hat!

    Don't be fooled by the "Titan smokescreen" (my term for it). Iapetus ('eye-app-e-tis') is the truly significant Cassini investigation.

    Enjoy,

    Raj

    • Just to update here:

      i) Iapetus is the second outermost moon of Saturn. But with its incredibly distinct angle of orbit, one might be forgiven for thinking such.

      ii) This thing is not cratered as it would appear. Every single 'crater' is in fact hexagonal! Which if you think it, supports a Buckminster-Fuller 'spheroid' (for lack of a better term) hypothesis. Also, each of these hexagonal surface features are equally sized to other adjacent hexagons with the same altitude.

      I think it is intel

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Looks to me like standard low gravity crystallization, with a pressure ridge at the former equator where the freezing crust met, then was deformed upward as the underlying material cooled and compressed.

        It's too cratered for any surface features to be remarkable at this point. We'll just have to wait for better pictures.
    • by tylernt (581794) on Friday June 10, 2005 @11:05AM (#12779950)
      "I don't know why this hasn't received more coverage"

      Maybe because that link is five huge pages spouting a bunch of conspiracy-theory pseudo-science... finally coming to the conclusion that the moon is, in fact, a disguised "Death Star"?

      Yeah, I don't know why it hasn't received more coverage... in The National Enquirer [nationalenquirer.com]!
    • Hey, "filthy-raj" is your turban dirty?
    • http://www.solarviews.com/eng/iapetus.htm [solarviews.com]

      A Google on "iapetus" will net someone more interesting (and more objectively plausible) information than a poorly-designed site that not only starts off by alluding to a science-fiction movie but is written by a well-known UFO buff (Richard Hoagland) who may suffer a certain lack of objectivity. And yes, some of the info out there is curious. Yes, there seems to be some sort of structure lying along the equator, but nothing says it's perfect; there is not enough i
    • I agree totally. Too bad Slartibartfast was busy with Norway, or else he could've put some bitchin' fjords on it.
  • A whole lot of rotting dinosaurs and plant matter underneath Titan to produce all those hydrocarbons...

    Or

    That's not where all our oil and gas comes from on this planet either. Besides that, it would be one weird damn dinosaur that would crawl into a giant rock to die, requiring explosives to extract its liquid remains.
  • TFA says there is no methane ocean on Titan.

    I thought that's what the "large black Lake-like" features were.

    I think I missed something... When was it established that those weren't hydrocarbon lakes?

    RS

    • Re:no ocean? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      TFA says there is no methane ocean on Titan. I thought that's what the "large black Lake-like" features were. I think I missed something... When was it established that those weren't hydrocarbon lakes?

      The Hyugens probe appearently landing on one of those "lakes". They speculate that it is a dried-out lake-bed. Appearently it fills up when the vocanos errupt.

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