NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Identifies 101 Icy Geysers on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

This graphic shows a 3-D model of 98 geysers whose source locations and tilts were found in a Cassini imaging survey of Enceladus' south polar terrain by the method of triangulation.
This graphic shows a 3-D model of 98 geysers whose source locations and tilts were found in a Cassini imaging survey of Enceladus’ south polar terrain by the method of triangulation.

Analysis of Cassini data identifies 101 distinct icy geysers erupting on surface of Enceladus

Space news – Enceladus, Saturn (Sept 22, 2014) –

Planetary space scientists looking at information obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft of the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus over a seven-year study have viewed 101 watery-geysers on the surface. This suggests to scientists it’s possible for liquid from the underground sea believed to be under the moon’s icy exterior to reach the surface and erupt as a spray of small, icy particles.

Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice and vapor from many locations along the famed
Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice and vapor from many locations along the famed “tiger stripes” near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft first saw possible geysers of water vapor erupting from the icy surface of Enceladus almost a decade ago. At this time, tiger stripe fractures could be seen on the surface, and scientists suspected they might have something to do with the geysers they could see. It took until now to confirm, through the seven-year study just completed, the 101 geysers are in fact erupting from the tiger stripe fractures. They also discovered individual geysers originate from small hot spots seen in images collected using Cassini’s temperature-sensing instruments in 2010.

This Cassini narrow-angle camera image -- one of those acquired in the survey conducted by the Cassini imaging science team of the geyser basin at the south pole of Enceladus -- was taken as Cassini was looking across the moon's south pole.
This Cassini narrow-angle camera image — one of those acquired in the survey conducted by the Cassini imaging science team of the geyser basin at the south pole of Enceladus — was taken as Cassini was looking across the moon’s south pole.

“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 the first paper. “It also told us the geysers are not a near-surface phenomenon but have much deeper roots.”

Next for scientists

Taking a closer look at data concerning the gravity field around Enceladus, planetary space scientists concluded the only plausible source of the liquid erupting from the geysers is the sea beneath the icy exterior of the moon. Computer simulations also show narrow passages to the inner sea could stay open completely to the surface if filled with liquid water.

Additional information on NASA’s Cassini space mission can be found here.

Links to additional information, images and animations can be found here.

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