Boffins spy liquid water on Saturn's moon
Enceladus is a hydrated mistress
There's little doubt now that the Saturn moon Enceladus hides a vast, liquid ocean beneath its icy surface.
Massive plumes of water vapor discovered by Cassini in 2005 sparked speculation of sub-surface liquid water within the tiny moon. Later, fly-bys found that the massive geysers - whose jet steams supply the material for Saturn's outer-most ring - contain traces of sodium — believed to be the signature of a large body of liquid water with long periods of contact to minerals deep inside Enceladus.
Now, a team of scientists from University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory say data from the intrepid probe's plasma spectrometer has found negatively charged water molecules in the jet spray. On Earth's surface, such ions are present where liquid water is in motion, such as waterfalls or ocean waves.
"While it's no surprise that there is water there, these short-lived ions are extra evidence for sub-surface water," said Andrew Coates of Mullard Space Science Lab in a statement. "And where there's water, carbon and energy, some of the major ingredients for life are present."
The findings are based on data taken in a Cassini plume fly-through conducted in 2008 and reported in the trade journal Icarus.
Last week, NASA announced it would once again extend the probe's mission to explore Saturn and its moons to 2017. The project was originally scheduled to end in 2008, but the mission received a 27-month reprieve to September 2010.
"This is a mission that never stops providing us surprising scientific results and showing us eye popping new vistas," said Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division in a statement. "The historic traveler's stunning discoveries and images have revolutionized our knowledge of Saturn and its moons."
NASA said the latest extension will allow scientists to continue to ogle and observe Saturn's rings and the magnetic bubble around the planet.
Thus far, Cassini has beamed home more than 210,000 images, made 125 revolutions around Saturn, 67 flybys of Titan, and eight close flybys of Enceladus. ®
'Water' is the English name of the molecule H2O. Its phases are water ice, liquid water and water vapour. Since water can be found in all three phases in space, the clarification is needed.
'Ice' is also incorrect because some of the outer planets and their satellites are made of water ice with greater or lesser amounts of ammonia ice, methane ice... and don't get me started on the clathrates...
Just in time for the UK to quit
Great stuff, but of course this all comes out just at the time the UK is pulling out of Cassini ( see eg. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/02/cassini.shtml). Of course the US knows when it's on to a good thing and has extended the mission until 2017. All the extra science in the years to come will go elsewhere, in spite of the fact that the UK has put a lot of effort into the project and made some fundamentally important contributions.
Nice one Gordon and Peter.
Stop, because that's what's happening to the UK contribution to Cassini.
re: small matter of landing
Simple, just point it at somewhere with a water shortage, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia would do I guess. Watch the desert bloom as it rains!!
Might fix 1 or 2 other small problems if it was big enough?