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Saturn's moon Titan has a weird ice formation thousands of miles long

By Meghan Bartels
May 02, 2019, 2:41:31 PM EDT

Saturn's strange moon Titan hides many of its secrets behind layers and layers of thick haze, but scientists have now peered through the haze in a new way — and spotted a massive stretch of water ice to boot.

That ice block stretches across nearly half of Titan's girth. The feature was a surprise companion to the patches of water ice scientists expected to find, and they aren't positive precisely what sort of geologic feature it might indicate. The research is based on data gathered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which spent 13 years studying the Saturn system and made more than 100 flybys of the massive moon before self-destructing in September 2017.

total ice long

Water ice is shown in light blue in these images of the surface of Titan. (Image: © Caitlin Griffith/UA Lunar & Planetary Laboratory)

"It's a good example of how we're doing really well at continuing to mine these amazing Cassini data for new results," Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist at Brigham Young University in Utah who wasn't involved in the new research, told "We're far from being finished with understanding Titan to the degree we can with Cassini."

Scientists want to understand Titan because its features provide an eerie twist on the planet we know and love so well. The moon has a thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere, and liquids rain down onto its surface to fill lakes and seas. But those liquids are organic compounds falling onto a surface made, in part, of water ice. It's weird. It's also a struggle to study, since all those weird things get in the way of each other.

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