For years, researchers have wondered whether Enceladus, a tiny moon just outside Saturn's rings, contains a large underground ocean. New evidence suggests that it is possible that this world has moist guts , but not only that, but also the contents of their guts is effervescent. Apparently, as reported by NASA on its website, the sea would be as full of gas as a cola, which may qualify for microbial life.
Suspicions that Enceladus has an ocean began in 2005, when Cassini flew by the moon to get more accurate images and data on its surface. "The geophysicists hoped that this small world a piece of ice cold, dead and uninteresting," recalls Dennis Matson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA (JPL, for its acronym in English).
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. The tiger stripes are fissures that spray icy particles, water vapor and organic compounds.
More than 30 individual jets of different sizes can be seen in this image and more than 20 of them had not been identified before. At least one jet spouting prominently in previous images now appears less powerful.
But it was not. "Boy, we were surprised!" He admits. What he left breathless by the researchers was that the moon was full of water vapor plumes, ice particles and organic compounds that shot out of some cracks open its shell frozen. Mimas, a moon near about the same size, was as bleak as the researchers expected, but there was no doubt with Enceladus. This was a world it was not boring.
Since then, many researchers have seen the ice jets as evidence of the existence of a large body of groundwater. Rafts of liquid water with temperatures near 32 ° F could explain the plumes of water. But this theory did not convince everyone, because if it was an ocean, where was the salt?
Cassini's instruments had detected carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and various hydrocarbons in the exhaust plumes, but none of the elements of the salt ocean water should contain. In fact, sodium and potassium salts, and carbonates were locked in the ice particles from plumes. The source of these substances had to be an ocean.
Recent Cassini observations revealed another interesting finding. Thermal measurements found that some cracks had very high temperatures (120 º Fahrenheit). "This high temperature has to be of volcanic origin. The heat must flow from the inside, enough to melt some ice and to create underground water basins, "says Matson. But how the contents of an ocean covered by a crust of ice up to tens of kilometers thick can reach the surface? Matson replied in a very graphic with a question: Have you ever wet when you open the can of soda?
The model he and his colleagues propose suggests that dissolved gases in the deep waters below the surface bubbles. Since the density of the bubbly water is less than that of ice, the liquid rises quickly through the ice to the surface.
"AN OPEN GAS"
"Most of the water extends to the sides and 'hot' layer of ice, which is about 300 feet thick," says Matson. But part of the water collects in underground chambers under pressure, and then shoots through small holes in the ground, "as an open gas spits out its contents." When water is cooled, filtered down to fill the ocean and start the process again and again. Scientists are not sure how this little rock comes to heat, but believe this may be what is called tidal heating, the pull of Saturn, which even causes the shape of Enceladus change slightly as it orbits. These encourage internal friction of volcanic activity, which increases the heat and melt the ice.
"It is clear now that, whatever it is what produces heat, Enceladus meets many requirements for life", says Larryu Esposito, a researcher at the University of Colorado . "We know you have a liquid ocean, organic matter and a source of energy. And to top it off, we know of organisms on Earth in similar environments. " A world that can still give many surprises.
Dirección General de Universidades e Investigación
Consejería de Educación
Comunidad de Madrid
Author: J. Jorge