Friday, January 28, 2011

Saturnian moon's ocean full of gas

New data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft indicates the Saturnian moon Enceladus may have a fizzy ocean capable of harbouring life.
The findings could explain the vast icy plumes of water that spray into space through fissures - known as tiger stripes - on the moon's frozen surface.
Lead Cassini planetary scientist Dr Dennis Matson from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California, says "geophysicists expected Enceladus to be a lump of ice, cold, dead and uninteresting".
Instead scientists have recently discovered the moon is covered with geysers shooting plumes of water vapour, icy particles and organic compounds.
Matson says many researchers viewed the icy jets as proof of a large subterranean body of water.
Pockets of liquid water with temperatures around 0°C near the surface could explain the watery plumes.
Cassini's instruments detected have carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and various hydrocarbons in the plumes gas.
In 2009, the spacecraft's cosmic dust analyser found sodium and potassium salts together with carbonates locked in the plumes' icy particles, strengthening the underground ocean hypothesis.

No comments: