Washington, Dec 17 (ANI): Data collected during several recent flybys of Titan by NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed new evidence for existence of cryovolcaones on the Saturnian moon that spew a super-chilled liquid into its atmosphere.
Rather than erupting molten rock, it is theorized that the cryovolcanoes of Titan would erupt volatiles such as water, ammonia and methane.
"Cryovolcanoes are some of the most intriguing features in the solar system," said Rosaly Lopes, a Cassini radar team investigation scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"To put them in perspective - if Mount Vesuvius had been a cryovolcano, its lava would have frozen the residents of Pompeii," Lopes explained.
Scientists have suspected cryovolcanoes might inhabit Titan, and the Cassini mission has collected data on several previous passes of the moon that suggest their existence.
Imagery of the moon has included a suspect haze hovering over flow-like surface formations. Scientists point to these as signs of cryovolcanism there.
"Cassini data have raised the possibility that Titan's surface is active," said Jonathan Lunine, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson.
"This is based on evidence that changes have occurred on the surface of Titan, between flybys of Cassini, in regions where radar images suggest a kind of volcanism has taken place," he added.
What led some Cassini scientists to believe that things are happening now were changes in brightness and reflectance detected at two separate and distinct regions of Titan.
Reflectance is the ratio of light that radiates onto a surface to the amount reflected back.
These changes were documented by Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer data collected on Titan flybys from July 2004 to March 2006.
In one of the two regions, the reflectance of the surface surged upward and remained higher than expected.
In the other region, the reflectance shot up but then trended downward. There is also evidence that ammonia frost is present at one of the two changing sites.
The ammonia was evident only at times when the region was inferred to be active.
"Ammonia is widely believed to be present only beneath the surface of Titan," said Robert M. Nelson of JPL, a scientist for Cassini's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer team.
"The fact that we found it appearing at times when the surface brightened strongly suggests that material was being transported from Titan's interior to its surface," he added.
Some Cassini scientists indicate that such volcanism could release methane from Titan's interior, which explains the moon's seemingly continuous supply of fresh methane. (ANI)