Scientists have discovered Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus spewing a “huge column” of water vapor far into space – and that plume likely contains many of the chemical ingredients for life.
Scientists have detailed the eruption – glimpses before James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in November 2022 – at a conference at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on May 17.
“It’s massive” Sarah Fagya planetary astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said at the conference, according to Nature.com. According to Faggi, an entire paper on the massive plume is pending.
This isn’t the first time scientists have seen Enceladus spewing water, but the new telescope’s wider view and higher sensitivity have shown that jets of vapor shoot out into space for a much greater distance than previously realized — in fact, many times deeper than Enceladus’ width. Itself. (Enceladus is about 313 miles, or 504 kilometers, in diameter.)
Scientists first learned of the watery eruptions of Enceladus in 2005, when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft detected ice particles seeping through the moon’s large cracks. It’s called “tiger stripes.”. “ The explosions are so powerful that their materials make up one of them Saturn’s ringsAnd according to NASA.
Analysis revealed that the jets contained methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia – organic molecules that contain chemical building blocks essential for the evolution of life. It’s even possible that some of these gases may have been produced by life itself, belching methane deep within Enceladus’ surface, an international team of researchers hypothesized in paper published last year in the journal Enceladus. Planetary Science Journal.
Water is another clue in the case of possible life on Enceladus. Enceladus is completely covered in a thick layer of water ice, but measurements of the moon’s rotation indicate that a vast ocean is hidden beneath that frozen crust. Scientists think the rushes of water felt by JWST and Cassini come from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor — a hypothesis supported by the presence of silica, a common component of planetary crusts, in the vapor plumes.
NASA scientists discuss future return missions to search for signs of life on Enceladus. proposed Enceladus Orbilander It orbits the Moon for six months, flying through the water columns and collecting samples. After that, the spacecraft will turn into a lander, landing on the icy surface of the moon. Orbilander will carry tools for weighing and analyzing molecules, as well as a DNA sequencer and microscope. Cameras, radios and lasers will remotely scan the lunar surface, Planetary Society reported.
Another proposed mission includes an independent mission.Android snakein the watery depths beneath the surface of Enceladus. The robot, dubbed the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor, features cameras and a lidar on its head to help it navigate the uncharted environment of the ocean floor on Enceladus.
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