Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

How did the equatorial ridge on Saturn's moon Iapetus form?



Saturn's moon Iapetus is one of the most unusual moons in our solar system. Perhaps the most bizarre feature of Iapetus is its equatorial ridge, a 20-kilometer-high, 200-kilometer-wide mountain range that runs exactly along the equator, circling more than 75% of the moon. No other body in the solar system exhibits such a feature; asDombard et al. show, previous models have been unable to adequately explain how the ridge formed. The authors propose that the ridge formed from an ancient giant impact that produced a subsatellite around Iapetus. Tidal interactions with Iapetus ultimately led to orbital decay, eventually bringing the subsatellite close enough that the same forces tore it apart, forming a debris ring around Iapetus. Material from this debris ring then rained down on Iapetus, the researchers say, creating the mountain ring along the equator. (Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets, doi:10.1029/2011JE004010, 2012)