Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Jets on Saturn's moon Enceladus not geysers from underground ocean

25.06.2009
Water vapor jets that spew from the surface of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus are not really geysers from an underground ocean as initially envisioned by planetary scientists, according to a study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

First observed following a close flyby by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in July 2005, the jets were found to consist of both water vapor and icy particles, said Professor Nicholas Schneider of CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The jets inspired speculation by planetary scientists that they were geysers -- violent explosions of water out of a vent caused by expanding bubbles of water vapor emanating from an ocean beneath the icy crust of Enceladus.


Water vapor jets spewing from Saturn\'s icy moon, Enceladus, are not the result of geysers from an underground ocean as envisioned by some planetary scientists but may be caused by water evaporation or ice vaporization, according to a new University of Colorado at Boulder study. Credit: Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Scientists hypothesized that if such an ocean did exist, it might provide a suitable environment for primitive life forms, said Schneider, who led the study. "We wondered if there was an ocean underneath that crust and wondered if it is just spraying out through cracks like a geyser boiling away into space," he said.

To test the theory, Schneider and his colleagues performed experiments to find the relative content of sodium in the water vapor component of the jets. If the jets were geysers originating from an underground ocean, then the sodium content in the water vapor should be high. Schneider said such sodium should give off the same yellow light that comes off street lights, and that the world's best telescopes can detect even a small number of sodium atoms orbiting Saturn.

Observations by Schneider's team using the 10-meter Keck 1 telescope and the 4-meter Anglo-Australian telescope, however, demonstrated that few if any sodium atoms existed in the water vapor. "It would have been very exciting to support the geyser hypothesis. But it is not what Mother Nature is telling us," said Schneider.

The study was published in the June 25 issue of Nature along with a companion study by other researchers that analyzed the icy grains that also make up the expelled jets. The companion study concluded there was at least some salt in the particles in the plume, suggesting the particles may have come from an ocean.

"Since our observing team did not find salt in the vapor, our conclusions speak to the conditions of a possible underground ocean on Enceladus," Schneider said.

One suggested explanation for the contrasting results from the two studies is that deep caverns may exist where water evaporates slowly, said Schneider. When the evaporation process is slow the vapor contains little sodium, just like water evaporating from the ocean. The vapor turns into a jet because it leaks out of small cracks in the crust into the vacuum of space.

"Only if the evaporation is more explosive would it contain more salt," said Schneider. "This idea of slow evaporation from a deep cavernous ocean is not the dramatic idea that we imagined before, but it is possible given both our results so far."

But Schneider also cautions that several other explanations for the jets are equally plausible. "It could still be warm ice vaporizing away into space. It could even be places where the crust rubs against itself from tidal motions and the friction creates liquid water that would then evaporate into space," he said.

"These are all hypotheses but we can't verify any one with the results so far," said Schneider. "We have to take them all with, well, a grain of salt."

The project has been funded by the National Science Foundation and has been carried out in collaboration with scientists from the University of Maryland and the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu.

Nick Shneider | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>