The photos taken by the Cassini probe, cruising in the vicinity of Saturn, and subsequent studies have led to the conclusion that under the ice of Enceladus, a satellite of the giant planet, hides an ocean. The water escaping from it beats with powerful fountains directly in space.
The jets were first noticed in 2005, and in 2015 it was possible to take a sample of them. This was done by Cassini, which flew only a few tens of kilometers from the spouting surface.
For a long time, the nature of these bursts was unclear. NASA specialists were the first to provide clarification. The data collected testifies to this: water jets. And salty. They do not form when ice turns to steam. Their source is liquid water.
From the subglacial ocean of Enceladus, jets of water gush through cracks in the ice.
Later, it was discovered that this water contains molecular hydrogen – about one percent -, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. And these “impurities” indicate that hydrothermal vents are operating at the bottom of the ocean of Enceladus and creating conditions suitable for the life of certain organisms – at least bacteria and possibly molluscs.
Suspicions that Enceladus could be habitable have recently been reinforced by specialists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the journal Science Advances reports.
Additional analyzes and computer simulations have shown that areas of saltier water are at the poles of Enceladus – under a thicker layer of ice. At the equator, the ice is finer and the water less salty.
On average, the salt saturation of the satellite ocean water reaches about 30 grams per litre. This should be conducive to life and the appearance of a few occupants. By way of comparison, the salinity of the terrestrial – inhabited – oceans is 35 grams of salt per liter.
Earth, Moon and Enceladus
The probable existence of geothermal springs at the bottom of the Enceladus ocean was also indicated by data collected by Cassini. Beneath the satellite’s ice are powerful sources of heat. As if there were 20 thermal power plants with a total capacity of 15.8 ± 3.1 gigawatts (1 gigawatt = 1000 megawatts).
“We assumed that the level of heat flux from the bowels of Enceladus is around 1.1 gigawatts, maximum – 5.8, but it turned out to be much higher,” said Carly Howett, manager. research at the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder).
Scientists still can’t explain what drives such powerful heat sources.
Of course, the interior of Enceladus is heated by the gravitational interaction with Saturn – the tidal force. A little more – adds radiance. But the performance of both is not enough to generate heat as powerfully as observed.