A NASA spacecraft has helped scientist find 101 geysers on one of Saturn’s moons.
The cosmic hot spot, Enceladus, is spraying water and ice from its vast underground seas through prominent “tiger stripe” fractures near its south polar region.
The NASA spacecraft Cassini surveyed that area of the moon over a period of nearly seven years, creating a map of 101 geysers connected to small hot spots on the planet.
Science has only known about the existence of the geysers since 2005, and there were competing views as to what caused them. One theory is that they are caused by the effects of Saturn’s tides, which cause the moon to flex and may cause interior fractures to rub together and generate heat that transforms ice into the geysers.
Another theory held that the opening and closing of the fractures from the flexing allows water vapor to escape from below the surface. Studying the data showed that this second theory was probably the correct one, as the hot spots Cassini found were too small to be from fractures rubbing together, but just right for escaping water vapor.
“Once we had these results in hand, we knew right away heat was not causing the geysers, but vice versa,” said Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and lead author of a paper about the phenomenon. “It also told us the geysers are not a near-surface phenomenon, but have much deeper roots.”
The findings confirm that the geysers are can come all the way up from Enceladus’ deep interior seas and out through its icy shell.
Another group of scientists studied the plumes of the brightness of the plumes and attempted to compare it to the expected schedule of the moon’s flexing due to Saturn’s tides. The scientists found that the tidal flexing model they were using did not exactly predict when the plumes began to be most bright, suggesting there is still a yet unknown factor at work in the timing of the geyser eruptions.
Images from NASA