Dr Dave Stegman, a Centenary Research Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, led the study and says that part of the intrigue with Enceladus is that it was once presumed to be a lifeless, frozen ice ball until a water vapour plume was seen erupting from its surface in 2006.
“NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently revealed Enceladus as a dynamic place, recording geological features such as geysers emerging from the ‘tiger stripes’ which are thought to be cracks caused by tectonic activity on the south pole of the moon’s surface,” says Dr Stegman.
The moon is also one of the brightest objects in our solar system because the ice covering its surface reflects almost 100 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. One of Saturn’s 53 moons (so far identified) Enceladus reflects so much of the sun’s energy that its surface temperature is about -201° C (-330° F).
Grappling with how an inaccessible small moon with a completely frozen interior was capable of displaying geological activity, Dr Stegman and colleagues used computer simulations to virtually explore it.
Ammonia, usually found on Earth as an odorous gas used to make fertilizers, has been indirectly observed to be present in Enceladus and formed the basis of the study which is the first to reveal the origins of the subsurface ocean.
The model reveals that Enceladus initially had a frozen shell composed of a mixture of ammonia and water ice surrounding a rocky core. Over time, as Enceladus interacted with other moons, a small amount of heat was generated above the silicate core which made the ice shell separate into chemically distinct layers. An ammonia-enriched liquid layer formed on top of the core while a thin layer of pure water ice formed above that. The work will be published in the August issue of the planetary science journal, Icarus.
“We found that if a layer of pure water ice formed near the core, it would have enough buoyancy to rise upwards, and such a redistribution of mass can generate large tectonic stresses at the surface,” says Dr Stegman. “However, the pure water ice rising up is also slightly warmer which causes the separation to occur again, this time forming an ammonia-enriched ocean just under the surface. The presence of ammonia, which acts as an anti-freeze, then helps keep the ocean in its liquid state.”
“These simulations are an important step in understanding how planets evolve and provide questions to focus future space exploration and observations. It will hopefully progress our understanding of how and why planets and moons are different to each other.”
Nerissa Hannink | EurekAlert!
Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
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In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
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