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Huge landslides spotted on tiny moon (+video)

Scientist studying Saturn's icy moon of Iapetus have detected several 50-mile-long landslides, a phenomenon that they attribute to flash heating.

Go backstage as scientists watch in real-time as the closest-ever pictures of Saturn's mysterious moon Iapetus are beamed back by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
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Long landslides spotted on Saturn's moon, Iapetus, could help provide clues to similar movements of material on Earth. Scientists studying the icy satellite have determined that flash heating could cause falling ice to travel 10 to 15 times farther than previously expected on Iapetus.

Extended landslides can be found on Mars and Earth, but are more likely to be composed of rock than ice. Despite the differences in materials, scientists believe there could be a link between the long-tumbling debris on all three bodies.

"We think there's more likely a common mechanism for all of this, and we want to be able to explain all of the observations," lead scientist Kelsi Singer of Washington University told SPACE.com.

Rock-hard ice

Giant landslides stretching as far as 50 miles (80 kilometers) litter the surface of Iapetus. Singer and her team identified 30 such displacements by studying images taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. [Photos: Latest Saturn Photos from NASA's Cassini Orbiter]

Composed almost completely of ice, Iapetus already stands out from other moons. While most bodies in the solar system have rocky mantles and metallic cores, with an icy layer on top, scientists think Iapetus is composed almost completely of frozen water. There are bits of rock and carbonaceous material that make half the moon appear darker than the other, but this seems to be only a surface feature.

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