Stereoscopic map of Sotra Patera
|Diameter||235 km (146 mi)|
Sotra Patera (named after the Sotra islands in Norway) is a prominent feature on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. It was formerly known as Sotra Facula; the current name was approved on 2012-12-19. It is believed to be an ice volcano or cryovolcano, forming a roughly circular mountain measuring about 65 kilometres (40 mi) across. It has two peaks standing about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) and 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) high with multiple craters as much as 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) deep. Finger-like flows are visible on the flanks of the mountain, measuring perhaps 100 metres (330 ft) thick.
The Cassini–Huygens mission has mapped Sotra Patera using the Cassini orbiter's onboard radar instrument and the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer. An earlier survey of the region in 2004 revealed a circular bright spot, or facula, which was nicknamed "The Rose". A subsequent flyby by Cassini re-surveyed the region from a different angle, enabling members of the US Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center to generate stereoscopic mapping of Sotra Patera and the surrounding area. Researchers also discovered at least two more mountains and another big crater, forming a chain of mountains several hundred kilometers long flanked by lava-covered lowlands.
Sotra Patera is regarded as "the very best evidence, by far, for volcanic topography anywhere documented on an icy satellite", according to planetary scientist Jeffrey Kargel of the University of Arizona. It has been compared with terrestrial volcanoes such as Etna, Laki and volcanic cones near Flagstaff, Arizona. There is as yet no evidence of current activity, but researchers plan to monitor the area for changes.
It is unclear what might have been erupted from Sotra Patera—possibly water mixed with ammonium, or more exotic hydrocarbon compounds such as polyethylene, paraffin waxes or asphalt. The eruptions may also have brought methane to the surface. Titan's dense methane atmosphere is constantly being broken down by sunlight in the upper atmosphere through photolysis; cryovolcanism may therefore explain how the atmosphere is being replenished.
The eruptions of Sotra Patera are presumed to originate in a layer of liquid water lying below Titan's icy crust. The mountain's heavily cratered appearance indicates that it must have erupted with considerable force, but the precise mechanism by which this happened is not certain. Liquid water is ordinarily denser than ice but it is possible that the water's density may be reduced by mixing with other substances, such as ammonia, allowing it to force its way to the surface. Alternatively, some other mechanism such as the underground formation of methane bubbles or a build-up of tectonic pressure may be responsible.
- Blue, Jennifer. "Sotra Patera". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS Astrogeology Research Program.
- "Cassini Spots Potential Ice Volcano on Saturn Moon". NASA, December 14, 2010
- Lovett, Richard A. (2010-12-15). "Saturn Moon Has Ice Volcano—And Maybe Life?". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2012-12-08.
- Castelvecchi, Davide. "Titan Spews: Discovery of Cold Volcanoes on Saturnian Moon May Solve Methane Mystery". Scientific American, December 16, 2010