NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continues to deliver the goods. This time, it mapped out 101 geysers of water vapor and ice on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. The geysers were spotted near the moon’s south pole.
We’ve known about Enceladus geysers for years after Cassini first spotted them. Back in 2005, Cassini spotted geysers erupting from fractures on the moon’s surface. Why are the geysers back in the news? It’s where the eruptions may be coming from that is exciting.
Some researchers believe the geysers are caused by these fractures rubbing together. If that’s the case, the material being blasted higher is located just below the moon’s surface. Other researchers suggest the geysers reach deeper, all the way down to Enceladus’ ocean.
The team of researchers on the Cassini imaging team compared the locations of the new 101 geysers with precise data from Cassini’s heat-sensing gear gathered in 2010. They found that each geyser eruption included a hot spot measuring a few dozen feet across. That’s too small for the eruptions to be formed by friction according to researchers.
“Once we had these results in hand, we knew right away heat was not causing the geysers, but vice versa,” said lead author Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement. “It also told us the geysers are not a near-surface phenomenon, but have much deeper roots.”
The research team has concluded the most likely source of the geyser eruptions is the liquid ocean beneath the moon’s surface.
This is exciting news. If the eruptions are originating from deeper within the moon, a spacecraft could gather samples without having to land on the moon itself.
The study is in the latest issue of the Astronomical Journal.