Cassini snaps pictures of Iapetus

IapetusThe Cassini probe has taken some awfully nice pictures, including this one of the moon Iapetus. The equatorial ridge is really very odd.

The most unique, and perhaps most remarkable feature discovered on Iapetus in Cassini images is a topographic ridge that coincides almost exactly with the geographic equator. The ridge is conspicuous in the picture as an approximately 20-kilometer wide (12 miles) band that extends from the western (left) side of the disc almost to the day/night boundary on the right. On the left horizon, the peak of the ridge reaches at least 13 kilometers (8 miles) above the surrounding terrain. Along the roughly 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) length over which it can be traced in this picture, it remains almost exactly parallel to the equator within a couple of degrees. The physical origin of the ridge has yet to be explained. It is not yet clear whether the ridge is a mountain belt that has folded upward, or an extensional crack in the surface through which material from inside Iapetus erupted onto the surface and accumulated locally, forming the ridge. The origin of Cassini Regio is a long-standing debate among scientists. One theory proposes that its dark material may have erupted onto Iapetus’s icy surface from the interior. Another theory holds that the dark material represented accumulated debris ejected by impact events on dark, outer satellites of Saturn. Details of this Cassini image mosaic do not definitively rule out either of the theories. However, they do provide important new insights and constraints.

2 thoughts on “Cassini snaps pictures of Iapetus”

  1. I’ve seen that line on rubber balls. It’s where the two halves get glued together, or where the two molds get separated, or something like that (obviously not clear on how rubber balls are made). But mark my words, there’s an alien civilisation out there with the two halves of an Iapetus-sized mold just lurking outside our solar system.

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