Feeds

Enceladus presents a puzzle for Cassini team

Weird stuff afoot around Saturn

High performance access to file storage

Enceladus, a tiny moon orbiting Saturn, appears to be venting water into space from a series of fractures over its south pole.

The water vapour is pouring out of the body through an anomalous hotspot centred over its south pole, in only the second extra-terrestrial observation of thermal activity in the solar system.

According to the latest data from Cassini, the moon might have lost as much as five per cent of its mass since its formation, and figures suggest it is losing enough material to account for Saturn's E-ring.

The difficulty is, scientists can't explain how the south pole region might be getting so hot.

All the instruments on board Cassini point to something very unusual happening at Enceladus' south pole, the area towards the bottom of the moon in the image here, marked by four heavy crevasses, known as the 'tiger stripes'.

Enceladus: A baffling moon. Picture: CICLOPS

Speaking at a press conference in London yesterday, the researchers professed themselves "happy to be baffled" by the tiny moon. "If all you're doing is confirming your colleagues papers, it is no fun," said Torrence V. Johnson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He explained that the two known sources of heat: radiogenic heating and tidal heating, are not enough, either alone or in combination to account for the behaviour. "Also, you would expect tidal heating to affect the whole body, or at least both poles. Its possible there is something special about Enceladus' structure that is focusing the tidal heating all in one area," he said.

Another possibility is that Enceladus was in a more eccentric orbit some time ago, and that this orbit provided enough tidal heating to kickstart the process we see the results of today. The surface of Enceladus's south pole is very young, so this could have been a relatively recent event.

Johnson says that the researchers have developed several 'cartoon sketches' of what might be causing the heating in the region, but stressed that he would not refer to their ideas as fully-formed hypotheses.

The first sign that something odd was going on was spotted by Professor Michele Dougherty. While reviewing magnetometer data, she noticed that Saturn's magnetic field lines were being deflected by the moon to a greater degree than its size could account for. She suspected the body might have an atmosphere - which would be unusual for a body just 500km in diameter, and would have to have an internal source - and petitioned mission planners for a closer fly by to see what was going on.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.