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Strongest evidence yet indicates Enceladus hiding saltwater ocean

Strongest evidence yet indicates icy Saturn moon hiding saltwater ocean


This image shows icy spray spewing from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

( -- Samples of icy spray shooting from Saturn's moon Enceladus collected during Cassini spacecraft flybys show the strongest evidence yet for the existence of a large-scale, subterranean saltwater ocean, says a new international study led by the University of Heidelberg and involving the University of Colorado Boulder.

The new discovery was made during the Cassini-Huygens mission to , a collaboration of NASA, the and the Italian Space Agency. Launched in 1997, the mission spacecraft arrived at the Saturn system in 2004 and has been touring the giant ringed planet and its vast moon system ever since.

The plumes shooting water vapor and tiny grains of ice into space were originally discovered emanating from Enceladus -- one of 19 known moons of Saturn -- by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. The plumes were originating from the so-called "tiger stripe" surface fractures at the moon's south pole and apparently have created the material for the faint E Ring that traces the orbit of Enceladus around Saturn.

During three of Cassini's passes through the plume in 2008 and 2009, the Analyser, or CDA, on board measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. The icy particles hit the detector's target at speeds of up to 11 miles per second, instantly vaporizing them. The CDA separated the constituents of the resulting vapor clouds, allowing scientists to analyze them.

The study shows the ice grains found further out from Enceladus are relatively small and mostly ice-poor, closely matching the composition of the E Ring. Closer to the moon, however, the Cassini observations indicate that relatively large, salt-rich grains dominate.

Strongest evidence yet indicates Enceladus hiding saltwater ocean


Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice out from many locations along the famed "tiger stripes" near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The tiger stripes are fissures that spray icy particles, water vapor and organic compounds. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

"There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across all the tiger stripes other than the salt water under Enceladus' icy surface," said Frank Postberg of the University of Germany, lead author of a study being published in Nature on June 23. Other co-authors include Jürgen Schmidt from the University of Potsdam, Jonathan Hillier from Open University headquartered in Milton Keynes, England, and Ralf Srama from the University of Stuttgart.

"The study indicates that 'salt-poor' particles are being ejected from the underground ocean through cracks in the moon at a much higher speed than the larger, salt-rich particles," said CU-Boulder faculty member and study co-author Sascha Kempf of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

"The E Ring is made up predominately of such salt-poor grains, although we discovered that 99 percent of the mass of the particles ejected by the plumes was made up of salt-rich grains, which was an unexpected finding," said Kempf. "Since the salt-rich particles were ejected at a lower speed than the salt-poor particles, they fell back onto the moon's icy surface rather than making it to the E Ring."

According to the researchers, the salt-rich particles have an "ocean-like" composition that indicates most, if not all, of the expelled ice comes from the evaporation of liquid salt water rather than from the icy surface of the moon. When salt water freezes slowly the salt is "squeezed out," leaving pure water ice behind. If the plumes were coming from the surface ice, there should be very little salt in them, which was not the case, according to the research team.


Please click HERE to see the rest of the article. In the search for extraterrestrial life in our galaxy, we are always interested when we see research that shows similarities to the conditions that made life-implantation possible on Urantia, such as a salt-water sea.

And from The Urantia Book:

58:1.4 Your primitive ancestors freely circulated about in the salty ocean; today, this same oceanlike salty solution freely circulates about in your bodies, bathing each individual cell with a chemical liquid in all essentials comparable to the salt water which stimulated the first protoplasmic reactions of the first living cells to function on the planet.

49:0.4 Not all planets are suited to harbor mortal life. Small ones having a high rate of axial revolution are wholly unsuited for life habitats. In several of the physical systems of Satania the planets revolving around the central sun are too large for habitation, their great mass occasioning oppressive gravity. Many of these enormous spheres have satellites, sometimes a half dozen or more, and these moons are often in size very near that of Urantia, so that they are almost ideal for habitation.


It is always interesting to speculate about life on the moons of a planet, for we know that a race of nonbreathers "inhabits a sphere in close proximity to Urantia."

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