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What the Hell Is This Thing Materializing in Titan's Ocean?

Sentient life? Bubbles?
Image: Solaris

The Loch Ness Monster of Saturn's moon Titan is back.

First noted in the summer of 2012, the mystery shape appears as a shallow 75 square-kilometer blob just off the coastline of Ligeia Mare, one of Titan's methane seas. The most recent imagery crunched from Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar data show it not just persisting but growing and changing.

You can see it above. The leftmost image is from Cassini data collected in 2007. The middle is from 2012, and, finally, the last image was snagged on August 21.

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Strangely, the blob was absent for much of 2013, at least when NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its regular monthly Titan flybys. Cornell astronomers did note a possible reappearance of the shape during one 2013 flyby, but the shape then known as "Magic Island" disappeared in lower-resolution follow-up images.

"[Now] NASA tells the full story, including the team's recovery of the feature in the Titan flyby just this August," NASA spokesperson Preston Dyches told me. "So it's no longer a disappearing feature, but an evolving one." The blob is real.

What is it though? Your guess is probably as good as the Cassini radar team's, but that's likely to change as group continues researching the mysterious bloom.

The group is tasked with "investigating possible origins for the feature," according to a NASA posting, "including surface waves, rising bubbles, floating solids, solids that are suspended just below the surface or perhaps something more exotic."

"Researchers suspect that the appearance of this feature could be related to changing seasons on Titan, as summer draws near in the moon's northern hemisphere," NASA said.

Perhaps the Solaris vibes speak for themselves (1972 version, screengrab above), but just in case: Maybe it's the sea itself, a materializing being. It's awakening, become sentient. If that doesn't ring a bell, drop everything and treat yourself to one of the best science-fiction movies ever made.