Today from NASA: “Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, may harbor liquid water”

Sylvan Dell’s 2008 release, Saturn for my Birthday, featured young Jeffrey. Jeffrey wants Saturn for his birthday, and he wants the moons, too—all 47 of them. After all, they’ll make great night-lights! Evidently, according to NASA, one of those great night-lights may also harbor liquid water, a prerequisite for life.

From the NASA website: “NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft flew through the heart of the icy plumes shooting off the moon Enceladus, a mysterious world that is suspected of harboring liquid water beneath its frozen surface.

Ice plumes rise from Saturn's moon, Enceladus “Cassini traveled as close as 103 kilometers (64 miles) above the moon last week, its seventh Enceladus encounter. The passage through plumes, which rise like icy versions of the Yellowstone geysers from the moon’s south pole, was the probe’s closest yet.

“Analysis of data collected during the flyby is under way, but scientists already have learned that the plume extends at least 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) into space and is about half as dense as expected.”

“The main thing we’re seeing is ice everywhere,” Roger Clark, with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, told Discovery News. His team is on the lookout for organics and carbon dioxide, both of which have been found on the surface of the moon.

Enceladus flyby, Nov. 2, 2009 In addition, analysis of the size and distribution of ice grains in the plumes should help scientists understand what is going on beneath Enceladus’ surface ice. “We know that heating by tidal forces is what drives the plumes, but we’re not sure exactly how. In addition to a possible liquid subsurface ocean, Enceladus may be harboring a dense mass underneath its surface that helped to start and maintain the moon’s current activity,” Cassini scientist Bonnie Buratti, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a NASA blog.

However, this is all just a start. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” Clark added. “That’s the way science goes: You answer 10 questions, and you come up with 100 more. But at least you’re making progress.”

We think Jeffrey in Saturn for my Birthday would approve of all this excitement, don’t you? Check out the full story HERE.


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