Titans Icy Volcano: Blowing Methane

    June 8, 2005

Saturn’s moon Titan would appear to have quite an active volcano system, spewing forth methane and creating a thick atmosphere blending the methane with hydrogen. Titan, having the only atmosphere of its kind in our system, lends hope to scientists who’re working on what may have happened on our world.

Titan's Icy Volcano: Blowing Methane

The photos taken by a Cassini fly-by during October of last year show some remarkable views. This has given scientists a good look at what’s going on and changed some opinions on atmospheric development for the moon.

“Before Cassini-Huygens, the most widely accepted explanation for the presence of methane in Titan’s atmosphere was the presence of a methane-rich hydrocarbon ocean,” said Dr. Christophe Sotin, distinguished visiting scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

In the center of the area, scientists clearly see a dark feature that resembles a caldera, a bowl-shaped structure formed above chambers of molten material. The material erupting from the volcano might be a methane-water ice mixture combined with other ices and hydrocarbons.

Energy from an internal heat source may cause these materials to upwell and vaporize as they reach the surface. Future Titan flybys will help determine whether tidal forces can generate enough heat to drive the volcano, or whether some other energy source must be present.

Black channels seen by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe, which piggybacked on Cassini and landed on Titan’s surface in January 2005, could have been formed by erosion from liquid methane rains following the eruptions.

“We all thought volcanoes had to exist on Titan, and now we’ve found the most convincing evidence to date. This is exactly what we’ve been looking for,” said Dr. Bonnie Buratti, team member of the Cassini visual and infrared mapping spectrometer at JPL.

These exciting photographs show promise for understand our solar system and particularly the primordial development of our own planet.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.