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Saturn moon, Iapetus, has the solar system's biggest avalanches, say scientists

Planetary scientist Kelsi Singer of Washington University, using images from the Cassini space mission, found giant landslides for the first time on the icy moon.

saturn moon shotEnlarge
Ice avalanches on Saturn's moon have been discovered by researchers at Washington University. (NASA/AFP/Getty Images)

Saturn's moon Iapetus sees some of the solar system's largest avalanches, says a new study.

Planetary scientist Kelsi Singer of Washington University, using images from the Cassini space mission, found giant landslides for the first time on the icy moon.

"The landslides on Iapetus are a planet-scale experiment that we cannot do in a laboratory or observe on Earth. They give us examples of giant landslides in ice, instead of rock, with a different gravity, and no atmosphere," said Singer, according to BBC News.

"So any theory of long runout landslides on Earth must also work for avalanches on Iapetus."

According to io9, Singer found evidence of the avalanches while looking for fractures in the moon's surface.

Both her and her colleague, William McKinnon, were trying to explain Saturn's equatorial ridge when they made the discovery.

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Though Singer found no evidence of fractures in the moon, she did find 30 avalanches similar to those on Earth that had run down the walls of impact craters.

Scientists said that this might help us better understand the phenomenon here on Earth.

"You might think friction is trivial, but it's not," said McKinnon, according to TG Daily.

"It's really important not just for landslides, but also for earthquakes and even for the stability of the land. And that's why these observations on an ice moon are interesting and thought-provoking."

Saturn has 62 different moons.

The avalanche phenomenon was reported in the journal Nature Geoscience.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/science/120730/saturn-moon-iapetus-has-the-solar-systems-biggest-avalanches-say-scient