Scientists are quite fascinated by Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Research shows that both its lakes and thick atmosphere are composed of liquid methane and ethane. But one of Titan’s most mysterious elements are its magic islands. Now, a study claims to have found a reason behind their appearance.
What Are The “Magic Islands”?
Titan is the only other body in space, besides Earth, known to hold liquid water bodies. Nonetheless, they differ from our terrestrial ones as they are made of methane and ethane. These lakes also presented another intriguing element.
Photos show that they sometimes host these so-called magic islands. Their name comes from the fact that they seem to appear and disappear. Such mysterious occurrences were noted on both Titan’s lakes and its seas.
Now, a new study, funded by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL, claims to have determined the reason behind their appearance. JPL researchers released their results in the Icarus journal. Their study paper was titled “Laboratory measurements of nitrogen dissolution in Titan lake fluids”.
Research was based on Titan photos and data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft. Based on these, the scientists developed a simulation of the moon’s frigid surface conditions. Then, they carried out a series of tests. These showed that the extremely cold liquid methane that rains from Titan’s sky can dissolve quite significant amounts of nitrogen.
Even slight changes can then lead to a reaction from this latter. These changes may take place in Titan’s temperature, composition, or air pressure. Based on them, the nitrogen will separate from the solution and cause fizz-like bubbles.
Titan’s Magic Islands Fizzy Appearance Is Based on The Lake Composition
The moon’s magic islands were quite mysterious because besides appearing and disappearing, they also sometimes reappear. Researchers tried to explain this phenomenon by advancing several theories. One of them targeted the possibility of bubble fields.
According to this latest study, this may actually be the cause. If proven right, the research also showed the mechanism behind their development. Also, it presented a potential reason for their appearance – re-appearance cycle.
The team stated that its experiments showed the results of methane-rich liquids mixing with ethane-rich ones. Such an event could take place during a heavy rain or thanks to a methane river to ethane lake runoff.
During such events “- the nitrogen is less able to stay in solution.” This is according to Michael Malaska. Part of the JPL, he also led the current research. Studies also showed that nitrogen releases or exsolution can also occur if the methane seas warm up slightly. This can happen as the seasons change on Titan.
“Thanks to this work on nitrogen’s solubility, we’re now confident that bubbles could indeed form in the seas, and in fact may be more abundant than we’d expected.”
This is according to Jason Hofgartner, a study co-author. Part of JPL, he is also on the Cassini radar team. Besides dispelling the mystery surrounding the magic islands, the study also has a quite practical use.
A potential future probe sent to study Titan’s seas and lakes could encounter problems because of the magic islands. It could also unwillingly create them if its propulsion heats up methane.
Image Source: Wikimedia