Saturnian moon may have fizzy ocean capable of harbouring life

Saturday, January 29, 2011

MELBOURNE - Saturnian moon Enceladus may have a fizzy ocean capable of harbouring life, suggests new data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

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 Dennis Matson from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California, said “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, reports ABC Science.

Matson said many researchers viewed the icy jets as proof of a large subterranean body of water.

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.

The latest Cassini measurements have detected temperatures around the fissures as high as -83 degree Celsius, which Matson said are high enough to be volcanic in origin.

“Heat must be flowing from the interior, enough to melt some of the underground ice, creating an underground waterworks,” added Matson. (ANI)

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