Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jigsaw Moon

More evidence that Saturn's moon Enceladus harbours a subsurface ocean. Cassini imaging scientists have shown that the surface around the tiger stripe cracks at the little moon's south pole, the source of its icy jets, shows signs of changes over time:
The tiger stripes are analogous to the mid-ocean ridges on Earth's seafloor where volcanic material wells up and creates new crust. Using Cassini-based digital maps of the moon's south polar region, Helfenstein reconstructed a possible history of the tiger stripes by working backward in time and progressively snipping away older and older sections of the map, each time finding that the remaining sections fit together like puzzle pieces.
In other words, the surface there is pretty much like the surface of Europa, also suspected of possessing a subsurface ocean of liquid water. And where there's liquid water, of course, there could be life - and when the Cassini probe dived through the jets on one of its close flybys, it discovered a mix of organic molecules similar to those found in comets. So it looks like all the ingredients for life are there, in the little moon's warm soupy subsurface ocean. But as to whether there are any soup dragons . . .

EDIT - it's also possible that Europa's ocean may be much warmer than previously thought.


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