A couple of years ago it was discovered that on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, there are plumes of water vapor which are shooting out of the surface of the moon. These plumes which come from the ice-covered surface of the moon indicate that under the ice there could be a trapped ocean. This means that there is hope for life on Enceladus.
Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn known for its characteristic jets of water vapor which are very much similar with geysers. A new study published in the journal Nature shows that they are not geysers, but curtain eruptions.
Researchers reached this conclusion after they analyzed photos taken with NASA’s Cassini probe. It seems that the geysers are in fact long curtains of material which shoot out cracks in the ice up to 75 miles long.
Joseph Spitale of the Planetary Science Institute together with his colleagues observed that the jets had a light glow in the background. After a more thorough analysis the researchers drew the conclusion that what seemed to be plumes was in fact an illusion of 2D photos. This means that researchers have been wrong all this time. This is a proof of how difficult it is to draw conclusions from the little data they have. Joseph Spitale explained:
“What became evident very quickly was that a lot of the tiny little jets we looked at were real slippery — we couldn’t triangulate them. We also saw really broad areas of emissions that couldn’t be jets — they were just huge fuzz.”
The curtains were mistaken for jets because the fractures from which the curtains get to surface often curve. The curtains do not stretch in lines which are perfectly straight, but they can at times fold against one another. In areas where the curtains bundle the eruptions of ice and vapor are thicker and this can be similar with jets.
If long curtains of water are emerging from Enceladus’s surface it means that there could be life on the moon since liquid water, energy sources and organic chemicals are considered to be the key factors which enable life. Previous research has showed that the water vapors on Enceladus have plenty of organic chemicals. Moreover researchers also discovered on Enceladus’s ocean floor proof or hydrothermal vents which could be the energy source for life.
In order to know for sure whether there is life on Enceladus researchers need to send another spacecraft there which will be able to look for clear evidence and even bring samples.
Image Source: Universe Today