Enceladus, a small icy moon of Saturn, may have dramatically reoriented relative to its axis of rotation, rolling over to put an area of low density at the moons south pole. According to a new study, this reorientation process could explain the polar location of a region where NASAs Cassini spacecraft recently observed icy jets and plumes indicating active geysers of water vapor spewing from the moons surface.
"When we saw the Cassini results, we were surprised that this hot spot was located at the pole. So we set out to explain how it could end up at the pole if it didnt start there," said Francis Nimmo, assistant professor of Earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Coauthor Robert Pappalardo worked on the study while at the University of Colorado and is now at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Nimmo and Pappalardo have proposed a reorientation process driven by an upwelling of warm, low-density material inside Enceladus. A similar reorientation process may also have operated on other small moons in the solar system, such as Uranuss moon Miranda, they said. The researchers described their findings in a paper published in the June 1 issue of the journal Nature.
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