Nitrogen fizz fuels ‘magic island’ on Titan, simulation suggests | Science News

SUPPORT SCIENCE NEWS

Science News is a nonprofit.

Help us keep you informed.


News in Brief

Nitrogen fizz fuels ‘magic island’ on Titan, simulation suggests

By
11:00am, April 18, 2017

SHAPESHIFTER  Nitrogen bubbles may be the source of an on-again, off-again bright spot, or “magic island,” on Saturn’s moon Titan. Cassini spacecraft images of the island, which sits in a hydrocarbon sea called Ligeia Mare, revealed the feature’s fickle nature.

Saturn’s main moon, Titan, has a “magic island” that might be made of streams of nitrogen bubbles, scientists report April 18 in Nature Astronomy.

Images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show that the island, which appears as a bright spot, comes and goes. It sits in Ligeia Mare, a sea made of methane, ethane and nitrogen in Titan’s northern polar region. The sea is probably 100 to 200 meters deep and frigid, about –183° to –193° Celsius.

The sea may also be stratified, with more ethane in the deeper layers and methane near the surface. If currents occasionally pull methane down to the deeper sea, the methane and ethane can mix, simulations by Daniel Cordier of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France and colleagues suggest. Nitrogen doesn’t like this combo, so the gas would separate out of the liquid, fizzing back to the sea

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now. Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More on Cassini mission to Saturn

From the Nature Index Paid Content