By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
NASA is always keeping an eye out in the universe for Earth-like planets that have water and might support life, but when it comes to our Solar System, nothing comes closer than Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. Even though it’s super frosty as a result of being 10 times farther from the Sun than Earth, with a chilly surface temperature of minus 297 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s still the only place in the Solar System besides our planet with lakes, rivers, and small seas.
Now, as the summer solstice brings the hottest days of the season, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted a mysterious vanishing island on Titan. In a mega lunar lake called Ligeia Mare, Cassini found floating spots that could be icebergs made of methane, a chemical compound that helps form gas.
As these lakes respond to hotter temperatures, scientists have often wondered why the super smooth bodies of liquid didn’t show signs of moving around, especially because Titan’s dunes provide evidence of windy weather.
Even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal that Cassini captured a disappearing white blob on a grainy image, scientists believe it may finally provide evidence of weather-related liquid movement. If it’s not an iceberg, they theorize it may be rising bubbles or waves sweeping across the lake’s usually still surface. The study’s lead author, Jason Hofgartner of Cornell University in New York, is excited about Titan’s summer. He says, “This is some of the best science ever to come out [of] Titan, and we still have three more years to make discoveries.” It’s no surprise they describe the mysterious spot as a “magic island”!
Images courtesy of NASA, JPL, and Caltech.