Skip to comments.Cassini Finds an Active, Watery World at Saturn's Moon Enceladus
Posted on 07/29/2005 2:24:17 PM PDT by Fitzcarraldo
Saturn's tiny icy moon Enceladus, which ought to be cold and dead, instead displays evidence for active ice volcanism.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found a huge cloud of water vapor over the moon's south pole, and warm fractures where evaporating ice probably supplies the vapor cloud. Cassini has also confirmed Enceladus is the major source of Saturn's largest ring, the E-ring.
"Enceladus is the smallest body so far found that seems to have active volcanism," said Dr. Torrence Johnson, Cassini imaging-team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Enceladus' localized water vapor atmosphere is reminiscent of comets. 'Warm spots' in its icy and cracked surface are probably the result of heat from tidal energy like the volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io. And its geologically young surface of water ice, softened by heat from below, resembles areas on Jupiter's moons, Europa and Ganymede."
Cassini flew within 175 kilometers (109 miles) of Enceladus on July 14. Data collected during that flyby confirm an extended and dynamic atmosphere. This atmosphere was first detected by the magnetometer during a distant flyby earlier this year.
The ion and neutral mass spectrometer and the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph found the atmosphere contains water vapor. The mass spectrometer found the water vapor comprises about 65 percent of the atmosphere, with molecular hydrogen at about 20 percent. The rest is mostly carbon dioxide and some combination of molecular nitrogen and carbon monoxide. The variation of water vapor density with altitude suggests the water vapor may come from a localized source comparable to a geothermal hot spot. The ultraviolet results strongly suggest a local vapor cloud.
The fact that the atmosphere persists on this low-gravity world, instead of instantly escaping into space, suggests the moon is geologically active enough to replenish the water vapor at a slow, continuous rate.
"For the first time we have a major clue not only to the role of water at the icy moons themselves, but also to its role in the evolution and dynamics of the Saturn system as a whole," said Dr. Ralph L. McNutt, ion and neutral mass spectrometer-team member, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
Images show the south pole has an even younger and more fractured appearance than the rest of Enceladus, complete with icy boulders the size of large houses and long, bluish cracks or faults dubbed "tiger stripes."
Another Cassini instrument, the composite infrared spectrometer, shows the south pole is warmer than anticipated. Temperatures near the equator were found to reach a frigid 80 degrees Kelvin (minus 316 Fahrenheit), as expected. The poles should be even colder because the Sun shines so obliquely there. However, south polar average temperatures reached 85 Kelvin (minus 307 Fahrenheit), much warmer than expected. Small areas of the pole, concentrated near the "tiger stripe" fractures, are even warmer: well over 110 Kelvin (minus 261 Fahrenheit) in some places.
"This is as astonishing as if we'd flown past Earth and found that Antarctica was warmer than the Sahara," said Dr. John Spencer, team member of the composite infrared spectrometer, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.
Scientists find the temperatures difficult to explain if sunlight is the only heat source. More likely, a portion of the polar region, including the "tiger stripe" fractures, is warmed by heat escaping from the interior. Evaporation of this warm ice at several locations within the region could explain the density of the water vapor cloud detected by other instruments. How a 500-kilometer (310-mile) diameter moon can generate this much internal heat and why it is concentrated at the south pole is still a mystery.
Cassini's cosmic dust analyzer detected a large increase in the number of particles near Enceladus. This observation confirms Enceladus is a source of Saturn's E-ring. Scientists think micrometeoroids blast the particles off, forming a steady, icy, dust cloud around Enceladus. Other particles escape, forming the bulk of the E ring.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
Additional information and graphics on these results are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and hhttp://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov .
Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Erica Hupp/Dolores Beasley (202/358-1237/1753) NASA Headquarters, Washington
During the July 14, 2005, flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph made the first direct detection of an atmosphere, first suggested by Cassini magnetometer measurements.
The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph observed the star Gamma Orionis as Enceladus crossed in front of the star. The light of the star dimmed as it was obscured by the atmosphere before being blocked entirely by Enceladus itself. The spectrum of the starlight changed as it passed through the atmosphere, indicating the presence of water vapor.
The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph results suggest that the atmosphere of Enceladus is not constant and may be consistent with a greater amount of atmospheric gas near the south polar region. The presence of water vapor is more consistent with warm water ice than with magnetospheric sputtering.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph was built at, and the team is based at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . The ultraviolet imaging spectrograph team home page is at http://lasp.colorado.edu/cassini .
Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
Does this suggest the potential conditions for any life?
Oops, that's volcanism not vulcanism.
As it swooped past the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus on July 14, 2005, Cassini acquired high resolution views of this puzzling ice world. From afar, Enceladus exhibits a bizarre mixture of softened craters and complex, fractured terrains.
This large mosaic of 21 narrow-angle camera images have been arranged to provide a full-disk view of the anti-Saturn hemisphere on Enceladus. This mosaic is a false-color view that includes images taken at wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared portion of the spectrum, and is similar to another, lower resolution false-color view obtained during the flyby (see PIA06249). In false-color, many long fractures on Enceladus exhibit a pronounced difference in color (represented here in blue) from the surrounding terrain.
A leading explanation for the difference in color is that the walls of the fractures expose outcrops of coarse-grained ice that are free of the powdery surface materials that mantle flat-lying surfaces.
The original images in the false-color mosaic range in resolution from 350 to 67 meters (1,148 to 220 feet) per pixel and were taken at distances ranging from 61,300 to 11,100 kilometers (38,090 to 6,897 miles) from Enceladus. The mosaic is also part of a movie sequence of images from this flyby (see PIA06253).
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov. For additional images visit the Cassini imaging team homepage http://ciclops.org.
LOL!!! Ya got me! I knew that was gonna happen.
"Water World", huh?
Methinks NASA is on a charm offensive, with a little help from ESA:
Water Ice In Crater At Martian North Pole
timing is **ahem** interesting
2/3rds, these latest photos are extraordinary....the amount of new knowledge & understanding this project has produced....& further questions, of course too...is staggering!