Titan, Saturn’s Largest Moon: Oceans May Be Locked Under Thick Ice Shell [Video]

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, may have its waters locked under a thick ice shell.

That’s the theory released Wednesday by planetary scientists Douglas Hemingway and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Their findings were published in a NASA statement as well in the journal Nature.

If you hit that button up top, you’ll see video of the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan which was collected by the European Space Agency’s Huygens Probe on January 14, 2005. The probe was delivered to Titan by NASA’s own Cassini spacecraft.

By examining data from the mission, the team said they found evidence that there are thick ice roots beneath Titan’s mountains.

Nimmo said that on Earth, when you fly over a mountain, you expect gravity to increase because there’s more mass. But on Titan, when you fly over a mountain, the gravity is less.

And it’s probably because the mountain in question has a very strong, thick ice root. Water expands when it freezes, so ice is actually less dense than water — explaining the reduced gravity.

If the findings hold up, then Titan’s thick ice shell may mean that it can’t have ice volcanoes.

In late July, NASA admitted that they were struggling to understand why we weren’t seeing waves on Titan’s lakes.

You can see a longer report, including a video about the space mystery, by clicking right here.

The short version is that the Earth and Titan are the only two known planets or moons to host large, stable bodies of liquid. That makes them the only two serious candidates for life in this solar system.

Earth is covered by about 70 percent water, and we have no trouble observing plenty of wave action. However, we’ve had a great deal of trouble observing wave action on Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes.

Some astronomers have claimed that Titan’s winds get up to tropical storm force speeds — which should have easily created visible waves.

If Titan’s oceans and lakes are indeed trapped under a thick ice shell, it might explain a lot about Saturn’s largest moon.

Jan. 14, 2005 view from Huygens by ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

[Saturn, Titan, and Titan’s shadow still photo by NASA, ESA, and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)]

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