What's new with Titan? Five intriguing findings about Saturn's moon

This year the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn has performed eight flybys of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Here are some of this year's eye-popping discoveries associated with Cassini's observations of Titan.

Titan's Mt. Ve-slush-ius?

  • close
    This false-color mosaic of Saturn's largest moon Titan, obtained by Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer, shows what scientists interpret as an icy volcano.
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

In mid-December, planetary scientists said they've identified what could be a volcano on Titan – albeit one that disgorges icy slush instead of molten rock. The mountain, known as Soltra Facula, has long been a volcanic suspect. But 3-D images built from Cassini data appear to strengthen the case. The mountain looks strikingly like Italy's Mt. Etna, Iceland's Laki, or even volcanic cones around Flagstaff, Ariz., said Randolph Kirk, an astrogeologist at the US Geological Survey's office in Flagstaff.

Soltra Facula, some 3,000 feet high, has a central crater with flow-like features spreading down the mountainside. What could drive eruptions? Some source of warmth deep beneath the surface that turns ices to slush and drives them through cracks or weak spots in the moon's crust.

Eruptions from such volcanoes could be the source of methane in Titan's atmosphere, a gas that should readily break down in sunlight and disappear without some source of replenishment.

2 of 5