Samples of icy spray ejected from a Saturn moon and collected by the Cassini spacecraft make a strong case for the existence of a subterranean saltwater ocean. Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice out from many locations along the famed “tiger stripes” near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
The plumes apparently have created the material for the faint E Ring that traces the orbit of Enceladus around Saturn. Analysis shows the ice grains found further out from Enceladus are relatively small and mostly ice-poor, closely matching the composition of the E Ring. Closer to the moon, however, the Cassini observations indicate that relatively large, salt-rich grains dominate.
“This study implies that nearly all of the matter in the Enceladus plumes originates from a saltwater ocean that has a very large evaporating surface,”says study co-author Sascha Kempf of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
(Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
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