One of Saturn's Moons Is Spraying Epic Water Plumes

Tiny, bright satellite of Enceladus dazzles astronomers with its geysers
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2023 10:57 AM CDT
One of Saturn's Moons Is Spraying Epic Water Plumes
Image from NASA shows plumes of water ice and vapor from the southern polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus.   (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute via AP)

Enceladus, Saturn's sixth-largest moon—and the solar system's most reflective object—has been putting on a show, spraying massive volumes of water into space. Aided by the James Webb Space Telescope, Mashable reports that collaborating NASA, European, and Canadian space agency researchers have been thrilled by the moon's geyser-like plumes, which shoot more than 6,000 miles above the planet's surface. Additionally, the small icy moon whose spritz creates a "misty halo" that generously contributes to Saturn's rings, is providing new insight into how it supplies water for the entire Saturnian system, per Mashable.

Then there's the moon's fascinating nightlife. As NASA notes in its news release about Enceladus, geysers there are like Old Faithful, venting at least 101 icy jets from beneath the surface into the cosmos, their strength fluctuating in rhythm with the moon's elliptical 1.37-Earth-day orbit around Saturn. Scientists particularly want to understand this puzzle, because the gas output stays the same when the moon is farthest from Saturn, despite the geysers being at their strongest. This suggests extraterrestrial plumbing mischief, making Enceladus's subsurface ocean and geological activity all the more fascinating.

Enceladus may be a moon, but it's not a bit player in the drama of the cosmos. Its bright, cratered surface—freshly renewed in some areas—reveals a geologically active world beneath its ice, per And that world features conditions that parallel those that led to life on Earth. Enceladus has sparked excitement in the past about its potential to harbor life, from the possible hydrothermal vents to the suspected cocktail of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. (Read more Saturn stories.)

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