Next stop the ocean worlds of Enceladus and Europa
Space news (planetary science: water worlds of the solar system; Enceladus and Europa) –planets and moons around the solar system and exoplanets across the universe covered with water–
The solar system’s awash in water! NASA missions have provided verifiable facts showing ocean worlds and moons exist in our solar system and beyond,other than Earth. Planetary bodieswhere water is locked in a frozen embrace and even flowing beneath miles of ice. Liquid water exobiologists are keen to explore for life forms they would love to meet and get to know a little better during the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Watch this YouTube video on NASA’s search for life on the ocean worlds of the solar system.
Papers published bythe journal Science and written by Cassini mission scientists and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope indicate hydrogen gas believed pouring from the subsurface ocean of Enceladus could potentially provide chemical energy life could use to survive and evolve. Watch this YouTube videocalled “NASA: Ingredients for Life at Saturn’s moon Enceladus“, itshowsthe proof scientists used to come to these conclusions. Their work provides new insights concerning possible oceans of water on moons of Jupiter and Saturn and other ocean moons in the solar system and beyond.
“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”
Researchers believe they have found evidence indicating hydrogen gas could be pouring out of hydrothermal vents on the floor of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and into these oceans of water. Any microbes existing in these distant waters could use this gas as a form of chemical energy to operate biological processes. By combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in this ocean of water in a chemical reaction called methanogenesis, geochemists think methane could be produced which could act as the basis of a tree of life similar to the one observed on Earth.
On Earth, this process is thought to be at the root of the tree of life, and could even be essential, critical to the origin of life on our little blue dot. Life existing on our planet requires three main ingredients, liquid water, a source of energy for metabolic processes, and specific chemical ingredients to develop and continue to thrive. This study shows Enceladus could have the right ingredients for life to exist, but planetary scientists and exobiologists are looking for evidence of the presence of sulfur and phosphorus.
Previous data shows the rocky core of this moon is similar to meteorites containing these two elements, so they’re thought to be chemically similar in nature, and scientists are looking for the same chemical ingredients of life found on Earth, primarilycarbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and of course hydrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur.
“Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Cassini detected hydrogen in plumes of gas and frozen matter spewing from Enceladus during the spacecraft’s deepest pass over its surface on October 28, 2015. This combined with previous data obtained by Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) during earlier flybys around 2005,helped scientists determine that nearly 98 percent of the material spraying from the surface of the moon is water. The remaining two percent is thought to be around 1 percent hydrogen with some carbon dioxide, methane,ammonia and assorted unknown molecules in the mix.
Cassini has shown us two independent detections of possible water spewing from the surface of Enceladus. NASA and its partners are currently looking over proposals to send spacecraft to determineif there is an ocean of water beneath its surface by taking a sample. The Europa Life Finder (ELF)is the proposal NASA’s seriously looking at undertaking at this point, but reports indicate a few other proposals are also being discussed.We’ll provide additional information on other proposals as they’re released to media outlets.
“Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.
Two different observations of possible plumes of water spraying from the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus provides proof hydrothermal activity is occurring beneath. Geophysicists believe hot water is combining chemically with rock and other matter at the bottom of an ocean of water underneath its icy surface to produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas exobiologists think could be used as energy, food of a sort, to sustain life forms exobiologists want to meet and learn more about. A meeting that would change our place in the cosmos, the way we think about the universe, and reality.
Astronomers and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016 reported on an observation of a possible plume erupting from the icy surface of Europa in the same general location Hubble observed a possible plume in 2014. This location also corresponds to the unusually warm region with cracks in the icy surface observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft back in the 1990s.This provides evidence this phenomenon could be periodic, intermittent in this region of the moon. Mission planners are looking at this region as a possible location to obtain a sample ofwater erupting from a possible ocean of water beneath its icy surface. Watch this video on Europa.
Estimates of the sizeof this most recently observed plume indicate it rose about 62 miles (~100 kilometers) from the surface of Europa, while the plume in 2014 only reached a height of around 30 miles (50 kilometers).
“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly,” said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Sparks led the Hubble plume studies in both 2014 and 2016.
One interesting thought’s the plumes and the hot spot is somehow linked. If this is the case, it could mean the vented water’s falling onto the surface of the moon, which would change the structure and chemistry of the surface grains and allow them to retain heat longer than the surrounding region. This location would be a great place to search for the ingredients of life and a possible entry point into an ocean of water beneath.
These observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and future looks enable future space missions to Europa and other ocean worlds in the solar system. Specifically, laying the groundwork for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is setfor a launch sometime in the 2020s.
“If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.
NASA has indicated they’re looking to identify a possible site with persistent, intermittent plume activity as a target location for a mission to Europa to explore using its powerful suite of science instruments. Another team’s currently at work on a powerful ultraviolet camera to add to the Europa Clipper that would offer data similar to that provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, while some members of the Cassini team areworking on a very sensitive, next generation INMS instrument to put on the spacecraft.
Water’s the story of life on Earth! Science has shown it played and plays the main part in the birth,evolution, and sustenance of life on Earth.
NASA’s planning on taking the human journey to the beginning of space and time to the ocean worlds of the solar system during the decades ahead. To search for the ingredients of life and even possibly simple one-celled life forms, of an unknown type. We plan on going along for the ride to have a look for ourselves and we hope to see your name on the ship manifest. We’ll save a seat for you.
Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by taking part in NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Participants take part in the search for hidden worlds between Neptune and Proxima Centauri.
Looking for changes in features of hydrocarbon sands in order to better understand winds and dunes of Titan
Space news (Planetary science: the moons of Saturn; Titan)
At first glance of news, it might seem Saturn’s frozen moon Titan is similar to Earth in many ways, but the atmospheric phenomenon and surfaces detected aren’t anything like those on Earth. The clouds of this distant moon drop ethane and methane rain into lakes covering large regions. The solid surface of Titan is made primarily of solid water and its vast dune fields are composed of hydrocarbon sands.
The dark shadowy region in the Cassini image of Titan above hosts two large regions where planetary scientists detect hydrocarbon sand dunes called Aztlan (in the south, down direction) and Fensal (in the north, down direction). Planetary scientists study surface features looking for changes over time, which they use to better understand the atmospheric phenomenon.
The view above was taken at a distance of about 450,000 miles (730,000 kilometers), by Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on July 25, 2015, using a spectral filter sensitive to near-infrared light with a wavelength of 938 nanometers.
The mosaic below is composed of Cassini images taken on September 07, 2015, of the hemisphere of Titan containing the dune-filled regions Aztlan and Fensal. Planetary scientists detect small islands from 3 to 25 (5 to 40 kilometers) in size sprinkled around these regions, they believe are mainly water ice along the top, with a dark particulate material deposited by the atmosphere in the surrounding lower areas.
The larger island to the near right, called Bazaruto Facula, contains a dark crater, while several islands in Western Fensal above can be seen here. Images of a region called Shangri-La located on the opposite side of Titan, show similar island-features which appear in clusters with an east-west orientation along their long axis.
Aztlan to the south in this image appears to have far fewer small island features. Planetary scientists do detect three large islands in the western reaches of this region and a few smaller islands. The largest of the islands just right of center in the bottom left frame is 149 to 75 miles (240 by 120 kilometers) across and has been given the name of Sotra Facula.
Discover everything Cassini has discovered about Titan here.
Space scientists think could be floating debris or waves on the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan
Space news (November 18, 2014) – Sailing over Titan’s moons –
Cassini sailed over Saturn’s moon Titan on August 21, 2014, to take a first look at the depths near the opening of a huge river valley along the eastern shore of Titan’s largest sea Kraken Mare. NASA space scientists collected data along a 120-mile shore-to-shore track of the hydrocarbon sea. One part of this track collected altimetry data along a 25-mile section indicating sea depths in this region of 66 to 115 feet (20 – 35 meters). This involves Cassini’s radar bouncing a beam off the bottom of Kraken Mare to determine an estimate of the depth in the region.
During this 25-mile section of the 120-mile track across Kraken Mare Cassini’s radar and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) detected bright features in the sea space scientists think could be similar to another bright, mystery feature previously observed in another of Titan’s seas, Ligeia Mare, researchers have called “Magic Island”. Detecting the features using both instruments gives scientists a better look and idea of the identity of these enigmatic features.
Space scientists at this time think these unknown features observed by Cassini’s instruments could be waves, floating debris or something else entirely. Unfortunately, it may be awhile before we know anything more about the bright features observed in Kraken Mare since this is the last chance for the spacecraft to observed the region.
Cassini will fly by Titan once again in January 2015, to take a closer look at the original feature spied in Ligeia Mare. At this time they’ll also attempt to measure the sea depth of Punga Mare, the only large sea in Titan’s far north Cassini hasn’t observed.
You can find more information on Cassini and its mission to observe the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan here.
For more information on NASA and its space mission go here.