Bright spot on Titan baffles scientists


Thursday, May 26, 2005 Posted: 11:29 PM EDT (0329 GMT)

PASADENA, California (AP) -- Scientists are baffled by an unusual bright spot on Saturn's big moon, Titan.

The Cassini spacecraft captured this image of Titan's new and mysterious infrared-bright spot earlier this year.

The Cassini spacecraft captured an image of the 300-mile (480-kilometer) blotch during a flyby of Titan earlier this year.

"At first glance, I thought the feature looked strange, almost out of place," Robert Brown, a member of the Cassini project, said Wednesday.

Scientists believe the spot might have formed recently as a result of an asteroid impact, landslide or volcanic eruption.

Another Titan flyby in July could determine exactly what the spot is.

Cassini has observed other patches on Titan's surface that usually disappear after a few hours.

The $3.3 billion Cassini mission, funded by NASA and the European and Italian space agencies, was launched in 1997 and took seven years to reach Saturn to explore the ringed planet and its moons.

Scientists think Titan's atmosphere is similar to that of the early Earth and studying it could provide clues to how life began here.

Cassini is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.