The Ocean Moon of Saturn

From Wikimedia Commons: 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. Original source: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Sixty two moons orbit Saturn.  The sixth largest of these at just 300 miles in diameter is Enceladus named after one of the giant children, the Gigantes, of Gaia.  The Gigantes came existence when blood of a castrated Uranus fell to the ground.  Enceladus, the Greek giant not the moon, was pierced and disabled by Athena’s spear during battle and subsequently buried under Mount Etna in Sicily.  The eruptions of Mount Etna are said to be of Enceldaus’s breath.

Like the Greek giant, the moon also erupts.  In 2006, a team of researchers reported that the Cassini spacecraft detected eruptions of ice crystals, water vapor, and hydrocarbons near Enceladus’s south pole.  Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m discussing Enceladus the moon. But the question remained, did these plumes emerge from a subsurface liquid source or from the decomposition of ice?  A new analysis of particles of taken near the plumes by Cassini, indicates that 99% of the particles are salt rich.   The salt content implies a salt-water origin and the existence of  a large subsurface ocean feeding the plumes. But it may be more complicated than this.  A second larger and deeper reservoir may actually feed the shallower one.

Postberg, F., Schmidt, J., Hillier, J., Kempf, S., & Srama, R. (2011). A salt-water reservoir as the source of a compositionally stratified plume on Enceladus Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature10175

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.