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Ganesa Macula, on Saturn's moon Titan, might be a cryovolcanic dome.

A cryovolcano (colloquially known as an ice volcano) is a volcano that erupts volatiles such as water, ammonia or methane, instead of molten rock.[1] Collectively referred to as cryomagma or ice-volcanic melt,[1] these substances are usually liquids and form plumes, but can also be in vapour form. After eruption, cryomagma condenses to a solid form when exposed to the very low surrounding temperature. Cryovolcanoes form on icy moons, and possibly on other low-temperature astronomical objects (e.g., Kuiper belt objects).

The energy required to melt ices and produce cryovolcanoes usually comes from tidal friction. It has also been suggested that translucent deposits of frozen materials could create a sub-surface greenhouse effect that would accumulate the required heat.

Signs of past warming of the Kuiper belt object Quaoar[2] have led scientists to speculate that it exhibited cryovolcanism in the past. Radioactive decay could provide the energy necessary for such activity, as cryovolcanoes can emit water mixed with ammonia, which would melt at 180 K (−95 °C) and create an extremely cold liquid that would flow out of the volcano.


Plumes of Enceladus, feeding Saturn's E Ring, seem to arise from the "Tiger Stripes" near the south pole.

Ice volcanoes were first observed on Neptune's moon Triton during a Voyager 2 flyby in 1989.[1]

On November 27, 2005, Cassini photographed geysers on the south pole of Enceladus.[3] (See also: Cryovolcanism on Enceladus.)

Indirect evidence of cryovolcanic activity was later observed on several other icy moons of the Solar System, including Europa, Titan, Ganymede, and Miranda. Cassini has observed several features thought to be cryovolcanoes on Titan, notably Sotra Patera, a feature regarded as "the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite".[4] Cryovolcanism is one process hypothesized to be a significant source of the methane found in Titan's atmosphere.[5]

In 2007, observations by the Gemini Observatory showing patches of ammonia hydrates and water crystals on the surface of Pluto's moon Charon suggested the presence of active cryovolcanoes/cryo-geysers.[6][7]

In 2015, two distinct bright spots inside a crater of the dwarf planet Ceres were imaged by the Dawn spacecraft, leading to speculation about a possible cryovolcanic origin.[8]

Enceladus - Cryovolcanism
One possible scheme for Enceladus's cryovolcanism 
Possible origins of methane found in plumes through its subsurface ocean 
Chemical composition of the plumes of Enceladus 


  1. ^ a b c Darling, David (ed.). "Cryovolcanism". Internet Encyclopedia of Science. 
  2. ^ Jewitt, D.C.; J. Luu (2004). "Crystalline water ice on the Kuiper belt object (50000) Quaoar". Nature 432 (7018): 731–3. Bibcode:2004Natur.432..731J. doi:10.1038/nature03111. PMID 15592406. . Reprint on Jewitt's site (pdf)
  3. ^ Chang, Kenneth (March 12, 2015). "Suddenly, It Seems, Water Is Everywhere in Solar System". New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Cassini Spots Potential Ice Volcano on Saturn Moon". NASA, December 14, 2010
  5. ^ Media Relations Office: Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory For Operations (2009). "Cassini Finds Hydrocarbon Rains May Fill The Lakes". Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Charon: An ice machine in the ultimate deep freeze". Gemini Observatory. 2007. Retrieved 18 July 2007. 
  7. ^ Cook; Desch, Steven J.; Roush, Ted L.; Trujillo, Chadwick A.; Geballe, T. R. et al. (2007). "Near-Infrared Spectroscopy of Charon: Possible Evidence for Cryovolcanism on Kuiper Belt Objects". The Astrophysical Journal 663 (2): 1406–1419. Bibcode:2007ApJ...663.1406C. doi:10.1086/518222. 
  8. ^ O'Neill, I. (25 February 2015). "Ceres' Mystery Bright Dots May Have Volcanic Origin". Discovery Communications. Retrieved 1 March 2015. 

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