Letter

Nature 435, 786-789 (9 June 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03596; Received 27 December 2004; Accepted 24 March 2005

Release of volatiles from a possible cryovolcano from near-infrared imaging of Titan

C. Sotin1, R. Jaumann2, B. J. Buratti3, R. H. Brown4, R. N. Clark5, L. A. Soderblom6, K. H. Baines3, G. Bellucci7, J.-P. Bibring8, F. Capaccioni9, P. Cerroni9, M. Combes10, A. Coradini7, D. P. Cruikshank11, P. Drossart10, V. Formisano7, Y. Langevin8, D. L. Matson3, T. B. McCord12, R. M. Nelson3, P. D. Nicholson13, B. Sicardy10, S. LeMouelic1, S. Rodriguez1, K. Stephan2 & C. K. Scholz2

  1. Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique, UMR CNRS 6112, Université de Nantes, Nantes, 44100, France
  2. Institute of Planetary Exploration, DLR, Berlin, 12489, Germany
  3. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109-8099, USA
  4. Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Stewart Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0092, USA
  5. US Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA
  6. US Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA
  7. Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario, CNR, Rome, 00133, Italy
  8. Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Université de Paris-Sud, Orsay, 91405, France
  9. Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica, CNR, Rome, 00133, Italy
  10. Observatoire de Paris, Meudon, 92195, France
  11. NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California 94035-1000, USA
  12. Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1310, USA
  13. Cornell University, Astronomy Department, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA

Correspondence to: C. Sotin1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.S. (Email: Christophe.Sotin@univ-nantes.fr).

Titan is the only satellite in our Solar System with a dense atmosphere. The surface pressure is 1.5 bar (ref. 1) and, similar to the Earth, N2 is the main component of the atmosphere. Methane is the second most important component2, but it is photodissociated on a timescale of 107 years (ref. 3). This short timescale has led to the suggestion that Titan may possess a surface or subsurface reservoir of hydrocarbons4, 5 to replenish the atmosphere. Here we report near-infrared images of Titan obtained on 26 October 2004 by the Cassini spacecraft. The images show that a widespread methane ocean does not exist; subtle albedo variations instead suggest topographical variations, as would be expected for a more solid (perhaps icy) surface. We also find a circular structure approx30 km in diameter that does not resemble any features seen on other icy satellites. We propose that the structure is a dome formed by upwelling icy plumes that release methane into Titan's atmosphere.

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