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 (1720 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.