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Mystery island on Saturn's moon Titan reappears with a new look

A "magic island" on Saturn's intriguing moon Titan has once again popped up on Cassini's radar, but it seems to have changed its look since the last time it was spotted.

Titan's mystery feature
Titan's mystery feature, as seen by Cassini over time. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Saturn's moon Titan is like the David Bowie of space objects. It's fascinating, enigmatic and more than a bit mysterious. Adding to its legend is a strange occurrence in Titan's Ligeia Mare, a large sea made up of mostly liquid methane. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been keeping on an eye on a feature that has appeared, disappeared and then reappeared with a new look.

First spotted in radar images in July 2013, the "magic island" is the subject of much speculation. An image of the area from 2007 shows just a dark, empty space. The most recent image, captured in August of this year, show the mystery feature looking both a little dimmer and little more filled out than it did in 2013.

Scientists have ruled out evaporation in the sea causing the appearance of the feature, since the nearby shoreline has not changed. Possible explanations include waves due to rising winds, gasses bubbling up, solids floating to the surface, or solids suspended just under the surface. NASA is also leaving speculation open to include "something more exotic." An extraterrestrial submarine piloted by Elvis would fall under this designation.

The changes in the feature could be ascribed to seasonal shifts on Titan. Summer is coming to its northern hemisphere. "Science loves a mystery, and with this enigmatic feature, we have a thrilling example of ongoing change on Titan. We're hopeful that we'll be able to continue watching the changes unfold and gain insights about what's going on in that alien sea," says Stephen Wall, deputy team lead of Cassini's radar team.

NASA scientists will keep an eye on the mystery formation, though answers as to its origin and composition may remain shrouded until we send an advanced mission to Titan, collect more data through spacecraft missions or Elvis calls in to tell us what's going on there.