A mysteriously bright anomaly winked in and out of existence on the seas of Saturn's largest moon, Titan — potentially the first time waves, bubbles or some other unknown features have been seen there, scientists say.
Scientists usually call this spot a "transient feature," but the researchers have playfully dubbed it "Magic Island." Titan, the largest of Saturn's 62 known moons, is 50 percent wider than Earth's moon and 80 percent more massive. You can watch a video about the "Magic Island" on Space.com.
"What I think is really special about Titan is that it has liquid methane and ethane lakes and seas, making it the only other world in the solar system that has stable liquids on its surfaces," lead study author Jason Hofgartner, a planetary scientist at Cornell University,told Space.com. "It not only has lakes and seas, but also rivers and even rain. It has what we call a hydrological cycle, and we can study it as an analog to Earth's hydrological cycle — and it's the only other place we know of where we can do that." [Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon, Explained (Infographic)]
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Using radar aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft, Hofgartner and his colleagues peered through Titan's thick, hazy atmosphere to analyze Ligeia Mare, the second-largest sea on Titan. Ligeia Mare is named after one of the Sirens from Greek mythology, and is about 48,650 square miles (126,000 square kilometers) in size, making it larger than North America's Lake Superior.
After the Cassini probe sent data to researchers in July 2013, the researchers flipped between older Titan photos and the newly processed images, to look for any hints of change. This is a long-standing method used to discover asteroids, comets and other worlds.
"With flipping, the human eye is pretty good at detecting change," Hofgartner said in a statement.
Prior to the July 2013 data, the region the scientists analyzed was completely devoid of features, including waves.