Tethys is an icy body similar in nature to Dione and Rhea. It is composed almost entirely of water-ice. The Tethyan surface is heavily cratered and contains numerous cracks caused by faults in the ice. Its surface is one of the most reflective (at visual wavelengths) in the solar system, with a visual albedo of 1.229. This very high albedo is the result of the sandblasting of particles from Saturn’s E-ring, a faint ring composed of small, water-ice particles generated by Enceladus’ south polar geysers.
There are two different types of terrain found on Tethys, one composed of densely cratered regions and the other consisting of a dark colored and lightly cratered belt that extends across the moon. The light cratering of this second region indicates that Tethys was once internally active, causing parts of the older terrain to be resurfaced.
The western hemisphere of Tethys is dominated by a huge impact crater called Odysseus, whose 248 mile diameter is nearly 2/5 of that of Tethys itself. The crater is now quite flat (or more precisely, it conforms to Tethys’ spherical shape), like the craters on Callisto, without the high ring mountains and central peaks commonly seen on the Moon and Mercury. This is due to the slumping of the weak Tethyan icy crust over geologic time.
The second major feature seen on Tethys is a huge valley called Ithaca Chasma, 60 miles wide and 1 to 2 miles deep. It runs 1240 miles long, approximately 3/4 of the way around Tethys’ circumference. It is thought that Ithaca Chasma formed as Tethys’ internal liquid water solidified, causing the moon to expand and cracking the surface to accommodate the extra volume within. The subsurface ocean may have resulted from a 2:3 orbital resonance between Dione and Tethys early in the solar system’s history that led to orbital eccentricity and tidal heating of Tethys’ interior. The ocean would have frozen after the moons escaped from the resonance. Earlier craters that formed before Tethys solidified were probably all erased by geological activity before then. There is another theory about the formation of Ithaca Chasma: when the impact that caused the great crater Odysseus occurred, the shockwave traveled through Tethys and fractured the icy, brittle surface on the other side. The Tethyan surface temperature is -187°C.