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Saturn's moon Enceladus shows fresh ice: More geysers on the tiny iceworld?

21 Sep 2020, 13:00 UTC
Saturn's moon Enceladus shows fresh ice: More geysers on the tiny iceworld?
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Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has one of the most amazing features in all the solar system: a series of huge geysers erupting from cracks near its south pole, water ice blasting into space due to huge pressures under the surface. There's a subsurface ocean there under a thick ice shell, and possibly a rocky core that makes the water salty. Conditions under the surface are actually quite hospitable for the presence of life.

Unsurprisingly, this makes planetary scientists extremely interested in the tiny 500 km wide moon (about the same size as my home state of Colorado). New results from old observations made by the Cassini spacecraft mission, which orbited Saturn for 13 years and made close flybys of Enceladus 22 times, now show that some ice in the northern hemisphere also shows signs of being fresh (on geological timescales, at least). This may be due to weak geysers, or it could be from water forced up through cracks in the moon's outer ice shell.

A visible light mosaic of Enceladus, a tiny icy moon of Saturn. Note the parallel lines near the south pole; those are the tiger stripes were geysers of water erupt. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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