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“Magic Island” Appears And Disappears From Titan’s Lakes

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Titan lakeA few months after the donut-shaped Mars rock made its mysterious appearance (which we now know was thanks to being moved around by Opportunity Rover), scientists are pondering another great, and bigger, cosmic mystery — an object described as a “magic island” that suddenly appeared and then disappeared from one of Titan’s lakes.

NASA’s Cassini probe has been hanging out around Saturn’s largest moon for a while now, capturing image after remarkable image. Scientists examining those images found one that revealed a big object in the middle of one of Titan’s biggest bodies of water, Ligeia Mare, which is nearly 500 feet deep. Cassini snapped images of the sea in 2007, 2009, and 2013, and an image from July 10, 2013 shows a mysterious white blob, which scientists are calling the “magic island” until they know more. The island is approximately six miles wide and 12 miles long, and it doesn’t appear in images captured just two weeks later.

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Scientists Think They’ve Spotted Waves In Titan’s Oceans

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TitanIf you watched Sunday’s episode of Cosmos, you know that Tyson and the Spaceship of the Imagination headed to Titan, Saturn’s gigantic moon that is thought to be one of the most likely spots for life beyond planet Earth in our solar system. As the ship cruised around, Tyson explained that the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan are the only bodies of surface liquid found outside of Earth. Just one day after that episode aired, scientists announced that they may have caught a glimpse of moving waves on the seas of Titan.

Of course, the hero in all this is the Cassini spacecraft, which continues to provide breathtaking and historical images of the solar system’s most picturesque planet. In 2012 and 2013, the spacecraft caught some reflective sunlight off the surface of a sea called Punga Mare, and scientists think it may have come from ripples — the kind only made on liquid. These aren’t big waves, we’re talking a few centimeters. But given that Punga Mare has always appeared to be completely flat, it’s still a major discovery.

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Our Moon May Not Be Able To Have Its Own Mini-Moon, But A Meteorite Recently Exploded On The Lunar Surface

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moonsWhen you realize that planets like Saturn have 60 moons, and Jupiter has 63, you have to wonder whether moons can have their own moons. Saturn’s satelite Titan is larger than the planet Mercury, so it’s not hard to imagine another rock circling it. Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today, one of my favorite space publications, tackled this question, and has dashed my hopes of discovering an infinite series of moons. It turns out that a moon can’t have a moon—unless some specific stuff is going on, which we’ll talk about later. At least the reasons this can’t happen are interesting, and that makes everything okay.

Apparently, “moon” has no explicit definition. If you look it up, you’ll find references to Earth’s Moon, but no official definition about what moons are in general. I thought science had this stuff nailed down. Moons do have some consistent attributes, though: they’re whole, sold objects that orbit around a bigger body, probably a planet, probably orbiting a star. Whatever the moon orbits is orbiting something else, etc. Technically, the Moon does have a moon, or at least something distinct orbiting it: NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling and photographing our Moon since 2009. But its lifespan is limited, and sheds light on why no moons in our Solar System can have their own satellites.

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Cassini Images Reveal Salt Flats Around Titan’s Lakes

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TitanNASA’s Cassini orbiter has provided us with new and amazing images of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan is the only other cosmic object in the Milky Way besides Earth known to harbor stable bodies of liquid on its surface, but the difference is that Titan’s lakes contain liquid methane and ethane. Now, Cassini has discovered salt flats — or, more accurately, whatever the Titan equivalent of salt flats are — surrounding these lakes.

artist rendering of salt flats

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Rivers Flow On Saturn’s Titan

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Did you ever sit outside on a cloudless night, staring at that big glowing orb, thinking back to all the time, money and effort spent studying and traveling to it? Just sitting back in amazement, thinking, “What a big piece of boring crap. Why can’t we have cool moons like Jupiter and Saturn? Why doesn’t anyone love me?” I totally have moon envy, if that isn’t obvious. Also, low self-esteem, but that’s for the other website I write for, Sad Freakin Robot.

Titan, Saturn’s well-studied satellite, is known for its stormy weather, polar seas, and a terrain that boasts hills, valleys, and plains much like Earth. Of course, it’s distance from the sun means temperatures reach -290 degrees Fahrenheit, so the rain and seas aren’t composed of water, but liquid hydrocarbons like ethane and methane.This leads to much confusion over why it hasn’t already been nicknamed “the cow fart moon.” Anyway, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft released pictures of a previously undiscovered river valley flowing through Titan’s north polar region.

river

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European Scientists Want To Send A Paddleboat To Titan

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After all the recent news about real-life asteroid mining and warp drive and impulse engines, I’m starting to get winded at how rapidly science fiction concepts are crossing out the “fiction” part. That’s a problem I’m happy to have, though, so I’m thoroughly enthused by this news that a group of European scientists and engineers are planning to send a paddleboat to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Much like the Curiosity Mars rover, this boat would be specifically designed to navigate across Titan’s surface. Universe Today explains that the idea is for the so-called Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE) to land in Titan’s Ligeia Mare, the moon’s largest lake, and then make its way toward the nearest shore. Titan is covered with seas, lakes, and rivers composed of liquid ethane, methane and dissolved N2, so if you take any vacations there in the future, for the love of god don’t drink the water.

Three concepts for the TALISE craft.

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