70 Ophiuchi B’s extremely large moon—here further enlarged both by the horizon-line lensing effect of the atmosphere and dramatic image manipulation—still retains a small, highly reflective ring of ice particles from an eons-past collision. The unusual, shell-like upper surface of the rocks are actually accretions of the planet’s dead or dormant organisms. Although the upper layer slowly ablates in the cold winds, warmer weather encourages new growth both on the top of the coral-like accretions, and beneath. The upper level growth ultimately dies, adding to the thickness and width of the lifeless “shield” that protects the macro-cellular colonies that increase slowly but steadily upon its underside. The most mature forms of these “accreches” take on the appearance of jagged mushrooms—at which point, the high winds and resistance of the shield will soon snap the top off, thereby fixing the limit of maximum growth possible for these primitive cellular communities.
© Inga Nielsen