The Cassini spacecraft may have found one of the most unique geological formations in the solar system. Volcanoes – that spew not molten lava – but ice. The spacecraft made the discovery around the distant moon, Titan which orbits the ringed planet Saturn. The volcano is somewhat similar (at least in appearance) to volcanoes found on our home world.
The discovery of a possible ice volcano on Titan was unveiled at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. The announcement was made after careful studies of topography and surface composition data from the Cassini spacecraft.
Scientists have long suspected that ice volcanoes might exist in the outer solar system (these geologic structures are also called cryovolcanoes). The temperatures on these far-flung worlds are so cold that the interior dynamics that propel molten rock to the surface on Earth – can only send slushy ice to the surface of worlds like Titan (ice is as hard as rock on Titan).
“This is the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “It’s possible the mountains are tectonic in origin, but the interpretation of cryovolcano is a much simpler, more consistent explanation.”
The Titan cryvolcanoes were discovered in the Sotra Facula region of Titan. Scientists note that these structures closely resemble terrestrial volcanoes such as Mt. Etna in Italy. The Cassini-Huygens mission lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in 1997. The complex is now managed by SpaceX which launches its Falcon 9 rocket from the complex.