Astronomers Spot Strange, Inexplicable Stripes on Saturn’s Moon Dione

Now that's weird.

It turns out that Saturn’s moon Dione has stripes like no other moon anywhere else in our solar system.

Dione appears streaked with stripes that run parallel to the equator for hundreds of kilometers. Astronomers have absolutely no idea what made them. Even stranger: all stripes are oriented in the same way.

Saturn’s moon Dione is streaked with stripes that run parallel to the equator.
Saturn’s moon Dione is streaked with stripes that run parallel to the equator.

Dione, one of the largest satellites of ‘the ringed planet’, was discovered in 1684 by Giovanni Cassini. This moon consists mostly of ice, although it seems to have a rocky core, surrounded by an ocean where life could potentially proliferate.

Because it is very close to Saturn, Dione does not have an atmosphere of its own. However, rarefied air sometimes appears near its surface.

Distribution of linear virgae on Dione and Rhea. Shown are the distribution of linear virgae (green) crater rays (pink) and candidate linear virgae (orange) a. Global distribution of linear virgae, crater rays, and candidate linear virgae on Dione. b. Detailed view of linear virgae (green arrows) on Dione. Image No. N1649318802 centered at 22°W, 10°N. c. Global distribution of candidate linear virgae on Rhea. d. Detailed view of candidate linear virga. Credit: ( A) Basemap from Roatsch et al, 2008. (B) Image No. N1649318802. (C) Basemap from Roatsch et al, 2012. (D) Image No. N1673420688.
Distribution of linear virgae on Dione and Rhea. Shown are the distribution of linear virgae (green) crater rays (pink) and candidate linear virgae (orange) a. Global distribution of linear virgae, crater rays, and candidate linear virgae on Dione. b. Detailed view of linear virgae (green arrows) on Dione. Image No. N1649318802 centered at 22°W, 10°N. c. Global distribution of candidate linear virgae on Rhea. d. Detailed view of candidate linear virga. Credit: ( A) Basemap from Roatsch et al, 2008. (B) Image No. N1649318802. (C) Basemap from Roatsch et al, 2012. (D) Image No. N1673420688.

Now, astronomers have found that Dione is steaked with massive bright lines, and no one knows how they got there.

A study of the images obtained by the Cassini probe for a period of over 13 years, carried out by scientists Emily Martin and Alex Patthoff, has revealed something intriguing about the surface of this Saturnian moon: some strange and bright lines near the Equator that are divided into groups according to their orientation.

“They’re just really bizarre,” said study co-author and planetary scientist Emily Martin of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Saturn and its moon Dione.
Saturn and its moon Dione.

“It’s really exciting when you see something really strange, and you’re just trying to figure out what the heck it could possibly be.”

“Their orientation, parallel to the equator, and linearity are unlike anything else we’ve seen in the solar system,” Patthoff explained.

“If they are caused by an exogenic source, that could be another means to bring new material to Dione. That material could have implications for the biological potential of Dione’s subsurface ocean.”

Dione’s linear virgae are usually long (10 to 100s of kilometers), narrow (less than 5 kilometers) and seem to be much brighter than the surrounding terrains.

Astronomers say that the mysterious stripes are parallel, and appear to overlie other features, remaining unaffected by topography, which indicates they are among the youngest surfaces on Dione.

Researchers tried comparing the strange lines on the surface of Dione with the lines found near Martian craters. The presence of these mystery stripes on Mars are due to asteroids impacting the red planet, and leaving behind traces.

However, asteroid impacts would have left craters on the surface of Dione, but in effect, they are not there.

Also, it seems odd that all stripes are oriented in the same way.

This is why researchers suggest that the mysterious topographical features on Dione may not have been caused by asteroid impacts, but by either the rings of Saturn or fragments of nearby moons.

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