According to astronomers, a huge cloud of water vapor was seen spewing into space from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. The geysers on the 504 km (313 mi) satellite are well known, but this one is particularly large. The water flow covers a distance of about 9.600 kilometers, or the same as flying from England to Japan.
Enceladus is of interest to scientists because it may contain the elements necessary to support life in the subterranean salty ocean, the planet's water supply.
By routinely flying through geysers and sampling water with its instruments, NASA's Cassini mission (2004-2017) provided compelling evidence of basic chemistry, but no direct determination of biology.
The James Webb Space Telescope spotted the new supercloud. Although hundreds of kilometers of steam emissions have been observed in the past, this geyser is on a different scale.
According to the estimates of the European Space Agency (Esa), water was spewing out at a rate of about 300 liters per second. According to Esa, that would be enough to quickly fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Webb was able to map the features of the cloud with the help of highly sensitive Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) equipment.
The equipment showed how much (about 30%) of the ejected steam was feeding one of Saturn's famous rings, the E-ring, which sits next to a turbid aqueduct.
“The surface of Enceladus has a temperature of -200 degrees Celsius. Professor Catherine Heymans, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, said: "It's very cold.
But we believe the core of the Moon is hot enough to heat this water. And that's what ignites these fumes.
We are aware that life can exist in the depths of the world's oceans in such harsh conditions. We are very excited to see these important eruptions on Enceladus. Professor Catherine Heymans said they would improve our knowledge of this state and the possibility of life's existence, but that it would not be life like ours; Probably deep-sea bacteria, she said.
The Enceladus Orbilander expedition proposed by scientists aims to find an answer to the unanswered question of life.
As the name suggests, this mission would orbit the Moon as Cassini did to sample geysers, but would use more sophisticated technologies and then land to sample minerals on the surface.
Orbilander won't take to the skies for several decades, even if approved. Meanwhile, NASA and ESA probes are on their way to Jupiter's icy moons. These space probes are much larger in size, have deep seas of water, and may be more promising candidates for the search for extraterrestrial life.
For example, it is not known how long Enceladus preserved liquid water, which is vitally necessary to support biology; The moon may have been frozen for much of the Solar System's history, casting doubt on its ability to host life.
By contrast, Jupiter's larger moons, including Europa (3,121 km in diameter) and Ganymede (5,268 km), likely had the thermal energy to keep water in liquid form for much longer.
The journal Nature Astronomy will soon also publish a comprehensive analysis of Webb's observations of Enceladus.
📩 02/06/2023 12:08