How to explain the water vapor and ice blown off in the form of geyser-like jets from Enceladus? It’s a question we need to answer, because we’re learning just how interesting the icy moons of gas giants can be, with the potential for biological activity far from the Sun.
In the case of Enceladus, though, the average global thickness of the ice is thought to be 20 to 25 kilometers. What has thinned the ice at the south pole, where warm fractures expel mineral-rich water into space? An unusual amount of heat is demanded to sustain this ongoing activity, along with a mechanism to explain what is happening within the moon.
The heat in question is likely the result of friction, according to a new study published in Nature Astronomy. The work of Gaël Choblet (University of Nantes, France) and colleagues, the investigation involved modeling by Cassini researchers in Europe and the U.S., tapping the abundant data that the Saturn orbiter returned to Earth in its 13 years at the planet. It was Cassini that first showed us the jets of water vapor and simple organics.
Image: Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice out from many locations ...