Saturn’s icy moon Iapetus displays an abundance of unusually long landslides, reports a study published online in Nature Geoscience this week. Understanding the cause of long landslides on Iapetus could aid in the understanding of unusually long landslides on Earth, which are potentially destructive natural hazards.
Kelsi Singer and colleagues analysed the dimensions of landslides on the surface of Iapetus, using images from the Cassini mission. They detected numerous long landslides, in some cases extending up to 80 km in length. According to their calculations, these long landslides travel farther than expected under normal frictional conditions. They suggest that the sliding of material heats the underlying icy surface, rendering the ground temporarily slippery and allowing the landslide to travel an unusually long distance.