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The Mystery of the Giant Ice Avalanches on Saturn’s Moon Iapetus

Why do giant ice avalanches on Saturn’s Iapetus moon travel so far?

Thanks to images gathered by the Cassini space mission, researchers are getting closer to understanding the colossal long-runout landslides on the distant moon, which sees uniquely long-breaking giant waves of ice crash horizontally along mountain ridges that tower up to 12 miles high.

Scientists now think the reason the landslides’ horizontal movements dwarf that of those on Earth—traveling as much as 30 times the vertical distance as opposed to around twice as far on our home planet—has to do with heat transfer.

A NASA photo by tthe Cassini-Huygens spacecraft showing Saturn; researchers are coming closer to an understanding the giant ice avalanches on the planet’s moon Iapetus.

Photo by NASA via Getty Images

According to the BBC, tiny contact points between bits of icy debris get quite hot, melting and turning the landslide into a bit of a waterslide instead. Giant waterslides down huge mountain ranges and craters on Saturn’s moon? Now that is a civilian tourism space mission we would definitely sign up for—and pack our space swimsuits.