Source of geysers on Saturns moon Enceladus may be underground water

November 27th, 2008 - 12:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Nov 27 (ANI): A team of scientists has suggested that the source of plumes of water vapor and ice particles, spewing from geysers on Saturns moon Enceladus, may be an underground reservoir of water.

The scientists, who teamed up to analyze the geysers, were Jet Propulsion Lab in California, the University of Colorado and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

For their research, the team used data collected by the Cassini spacecrafts Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS).

The team, including UCF Assistant Professor Joshua Colwell, found that the source of plumes may be vents on the moon that channel water vapor from a warm, probably liquid source to the surface at supersonic speeds.

There are only three places in the solar system we know or suspect to have liquid water near the surface, Colwell said.

Earth, Jupiters moon Europa and now Saturns Enceladus. Water is a basic ingredient for life, and there are certainly implications there. If we find that the tidal heating that we believe causes these geysers is a common planetary systems phenomenon, then it gets really interesting, he added.

The teams findings support a theory that the plumes observed are caused by a water source deep inside Enceladus.

This is not a foreign concept. On earth, liquid water exists beneath ice at Lake Vostok, Antarctica.

Scientists suggest that in Enceladuss case, the ice grains would condense from the vapor escaping from the water source and stream through the cracks in the ice crust before heading into space.

Thats likely what Cassinis instruments detected in 2005 and 2007, the basis for the teams investigation.

The results suggest that the behavior of the geysers supports a mathematical model that treats the vents as nozzles that channel water vapor from a liquid reservoir to the surface of the moon.

By observing the flickering light of a star as the geysers blocked it out, the team found that the water vapor forms narrow jets.

The authors theorize that only high temperatures close to the melting point of water ice could account for the high speed of the water vapor jets.

Although there is no solid conclusion yet, there may be one soon.

Enceladus is a prime target of Cassini during its extended Equinox Mission, underway now through September 2010. (ANI)

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