Enceladus is one of Saturn’s moons. It is small – its diameter is 500 kilometers, and the year lasts only 33 hours. Scientists consider it as a place of potential life. Recent images from the James Webb Space Telescope show a jet of water 10,000 kilometers high into space.
About the same height as the distance between the US and Japan is the water fountain ejected from Enceladus – Saturn’s moon with a diameter of only about 500 kilometers.
The Cassini spacecraft has already discovered that Enceladus harbors a subsurface ocean of water. She even analyzed samples of liquid water and ice escaping into space through cracks in the crust.
‘Enceladus is one of the solar system’s most dynamic objects and is one of the main targets in the search for life,’ commented Christopher Glein, one of the authors of the paper, which is due to appear in the science journal Nature Astronomy. – Since it was posted by NASA When the Cassini spacecraft first looked at Enceladus, we have never ceased to be amazed at what is happening on this extraordinary moon, he added.
Webb’s telescope provided other surprising data.
– When I analyzed this data, at first I thought it was a mistake. It was so shocking to map a cloud more than 20 times the diameter of the moon itself, said Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the paper. “The cloud extends much further than we could have imagined,” he added.
During its 33-hour journey around Saturn, Enceladus spews out water, leaving a trail around the planet.
The cloud spreads in the dense E ring and is the source of water for the entire Saturn system.
– Images obtained from the Webb Telescope show for the first time how water from Enceladus contributes to the formation of the entire torus (i.e. a surface resembling a tire or a bagel, created by rotating a circle around a straight line lying in the plane of this circle and not intersecting it – PAP). This shows Webb’s extraordinary capabilities, said co-author Dr Silvia Protopapa.
Webb as a bridge
Further observations of Enceladus are planned for next year.
‘We’ll be looking for specific indicators of life-sustainability, such as signatures of organic compounds and hydrogen peroxide. It is of particular interest because it can provide much more metabolic energy than what we have previously identified. Cassini has not given us a clear answer about the availability of such powerful oxidizers on Enceladus, said Dr Glein.
In terms of the life-sustaining environment of Enceladus, future observations are expected to be as much as ten times more accurate. Current and planned analyzes may help prepare NASA’s proposed flagship Enceladus Orbilander mission, in which the probe, after a period of studying the moon from orbit, is to land on its surface.
– Webb could act as a bridge between the Cassini spacecraft and the proposed search for life mission – Orbilander. After a series of second studies, we will have a better understanding of whether ocean samples are widespread on the surface of Enceladus, and not just near the South Pole. These planned observations could help us determine if the Orbilander can access ocean samples near the equator, which could accelerate our return to Enceladus, concluded Dr Glein.
Main photo source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Image Processing: A. Pagan (STScI)