Jul 13, 2007
Dione's Tortuous Cliffs
Saturn's moon, Dione, exhibits some unusual
geological formations that may indicate electrical forces at work.
Cassini spacecraft continues to explore the environment
Saturn, more close up and detailed images reveal that
its moons have experienced what might be called,
“catastrophic” events in the past.
mentioned in a previous
Thunderbolts Picture of the Day, Dione and Tethys were
found to be active worlds, similar to
Enceladus, spewing streams of particles into the
plasmasphere of Saturn. Titan, another large moon, has
landforms on its surface that suggest to NASA observers that
there may be flowing liquid ethane rivers or hydrocarbon
lakes present. Although the idea is speculative, it
illustrates how strange the moons of the outer solar system
bright cliffs are visible, wrapping around it and
extending for many kilometers. In a
flyby animation, the camera focuses on those features
and shows that they have a braided shape, often cut through
craters and intersect other cliffs. Because Dione has no
atmosphere and is only 1126 kilometers in diameter, it was
thought to be geologically inactive. But then the plumes of
charged particles were found erupting from a number of hot
spots on its surface.
the Electric Universe hypothesis, these plumes are plasma
discharges that are ejecting material into space, just as on
Jupiter's moon Io. It's likely that conditions existed in
the past where that activity was much more energetic,
etched terrain that we see today.
grooves and canyons run parallel to each other. They have
sharp rims and begin abruptly with no gradually eroded look
to them. They have side canyons running off at ninety-degree
angles and craters along their length,
often in chains. The craters are shallow with no debris
around them and have central peaks very much like craters
found on Earth’s Moon and on other planets, such as
Mars. In past
Picture of the Day articles, such formations have been
identified with electric discharge machining.
moons of Saturn orbit within its plasmasphere and exchange
electrical energy with one another, electricity must be
considered whenever we observe unusual morphology.
Projecting earthly geologic forces and the slow progress of
erosion onto other planets and moons misses the point. Wind
and rain erode our planet and presumably create canyons and
valleys. But when no wind or rain exists – such as on Dione
– how do we explain the fresh looking and unique topography
that defies convention? And should we then also question the
assumption that wind and rain alone have sculpted the Earth?
By Stephen Smith
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