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The jets of Enceladus

Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Image Processing: A. Pagan (STScI).

NEW JAMES WEBB IMAGE ALERT!…….and this one is cool!

The James Webb space telescope has recently taken a photo of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, the image can be viewed above and shows up as a white pixel in the image (highlighted in red). The moon itself in this image is not exciting; however, pictured below the white pixel (the moon), you can see jets of material coming off the moon. That substance is water, which is being ejected over 9,000kms!!

And… it’s feeding into the rings of Saturn!

Water being ejected off the surface of this moon is not a new discovery, that discovery was made quite dramatically in 2005 when the Cassini space probe pictured them erupting from the surface of the moon on one of its flybys. In fact, Enceladus is not the only moon to do this, Jupiter’s Icy moon Europa along with a few others has this same feature, which is water jets shooting off its surface. What is a discovery based on this image is just how far those plumes of water (also called geysers) reach into space, originally believed to reach several hundred km out, this new photo has given NASA a distance of over 9,000 km that the water jets reach out to, this is because the moon has little to no atmosphere and any thick atmosphere that does start to form doesn’t last for long due its weak gravity unable to hold onto it, the gravity is also weak enough that the pressure from the water jets can overcome it to reach those heights! 
This process of shooting water plumes off its surface is called cryovolcanism, “cryo” meaning cold and in this case, water vapor or Icey particles.
Above image is of Saturn’s moon Enceladus with the water plumes erupting from its south pole, taken by the Cassini space craft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft diving through the plume of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, in 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Life in the moons?
The biggest detail of these water plumes or jets is the fact that they have evidence that life could be present under the icy surface of this moon. The moon’s surface is completely covered by ice, after all, it is around -200℃ out there, however, under all that ice are oceans of salty water, heated to liquid by heat due to the tidal forces exerted on it from Jupiter and the other big moons.

Scientists believe life may have originated deep underwater where heat makes its way up from the Earth’s hot core through openings called hydrothermal vents, heating the water to help provide conditions to support life through chemical energy and food rather than energy from the Sun. (see picture graphic below for visuals).
Scientists believe that hydrothermal vents present on moons such as Enceladus could also help spur life on within its waters.
Also, the Cassini spacecraft flew directly through one of these plumes of water during one of its flybys and its sensors detected organic compounds. Now, this isn’t to say without a doubt life is present within its waters, but some of the ingredients are there!

Ok, so it won’t be any forms of intelligent life, however, any other life form outside of Earth would be a big find! It would confirm that the universe can easily make life outside of Earth and help to support the idea that life began here on Earth due to that process. As it stands the origins of life are still somewhat of a mystery.

Everyone looks to planets in search of life when actually the moons are the biggest bet to find it (within our solar system anyway).
Photo Credit: Southwest Research Institute
For anyone interested in more reading, here is the link to NASA’s Webb image and story, including how it feeds into the rings of Saturn! 
Webb Maps Large Plume Jetting From Saturn’s Moon Enceladus | NASA