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Enceladus’ Subsurface Ocean of Liquid Water

5 Apr 2014, 10:21 UTC
Enceladus’ Subsurface Ocean of Liquid Water
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With a diameter of 500 km, Enceladus is a small icy moon of Saturn. Images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft show large plumes of water vapour and ice erupting from the south-polar region on Enceladus. The source of these plumes, or geysers, is believed to be an ocean of liquid water beneath Enceladus’ icy crust. Tidal interactions between Enceladus and Dione (another moon of Saturn) generate the heat necessary to keep this body of water in a liquid state. A study done in 2011 found that Enceladus’ south-polar region pumps out an estimated 15.8 gigawatts of endogenic heat. This amount of heat is sufficient to maintain an ocean of liquid water under a thermally conductive icy crust.Figure 1: Saturn’s moon Enceladus, covered in snow and ice, resembles a perfectly packed snowball in this image from Cassini. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.From 2010 to 2012, Cassini performed 3 close flybys of Enceladus that allowed for ultra-precise radio tracking of the spacecraft from Earth using the giant ground antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network. For these close flybys, Cassini flew within 100 km of Enceladus’ surface, twice above the southern hemisphere and once over the northern hemisphere. During each flyby, the spacecraft’s velocity ...

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