Huge plumes of water vapour and ice particles are spewing from Saturn’s moon Enceladus at supersonic speeds in a way that strongly suggests they come from liquid water down below the icy surface, scientists said.
The research, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, offers new evidence that the moon may harbour an underground ocean of water, meaning conditions might exist that could support life, even if only microbial organisms.
“We think liquid water is necessary for life,” Candice Hansen of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.
“This is more evidence that there is liquid water there. You also need energy, you need nutrients, you need organics. It looks like the pieces are there. Whether or not there’s actually life, of course, we can’t say,” Hansen said.
One of 60 moons
The Cassini spacecraft in 2005 discovered humongous geysers erupting from fissures near the south pole of Enceladus into space – reminiscent of the famed Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park in the United States but on a grand scale.
Since then, scientists have debated whether this meant that Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-ah-dus), with a diameter of only 310 miles, was hiding a reservoir of liquid water. It is one of about 60 moons of the dramatic ringed planet Saturn.
Based on data collected last year by Cassini’s Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph instrument, the researchers said the behaviour of the plumes supports a mathematical model in which the cracks that extend below the surface act as nozzles that channel water vapour from an underground liquid water reservoir.
The geysers continuously shoot plumes into space at more than 1 300 mph, the researchers said.
By using the instrument to observe the flickering light of a distant star as the geyser blocked its starlight, the researchers determined that the water vapour comes from narrow jets as it blasts into space…. – news24
Video about the discovery of ice particles being blown out into space. The four orbs in our solar system with water we currently know of are: Earth, Mars, Europa and Enceladus.