Feeds

Space scope spies soggy, stupendous Saturnian doughnut

Incontinent moon squirts wetly onto ringed giant

Security for virtualized datacentres

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory has discovered just where the water in Saturn's upper atmosphere comes from: a giant aqueous doughnut surrounding the planet, formed by H2O hosing from the moon Enceladus.

Water jets erupting from Enceladus. Pic: NASANASA's Cassini spacecraft previously spied the water plumes of Enceladus (see pic*), but until now scientists hadn't made the connection between these and Saturnian atmospheric water, first spotted in 1997 by the ESA's Infrared Space Observatory.

In fact, Enceladus's outpourings – estimated at 250kg per second – feed a massive torus which measures "more than 10 times the radius of Saturn", but is just one Saturn-radius thick. ESA explains: "Enceladus orbits the planet at a distance of about four Saturn radii, replenishing the torus with its jets of water."

The doughnut previously went undetected because its water vapour is transparent to visible light, but not to the infrared wavelengths Herschel can sniff.

The percentage of Enceladus's water output eventually falling on Saturn is small, perhaps 3 to 5 per cent. The rest "is lost into space, freezes on the rings or perhaps falls onto Saturn’s other moons", the ESA notes.

That which does enter the atmosphere will eventually fall and condense into miniscule clouds.

Paul Hartogh, the scientist from the Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, who led the team analysing the Herschel results, said: "There is no analogy to this behaviour on Earth. No significant quantities of water enter our atmosphere from space. This is unique to Saturn."

The ESA has more on the soggy Saturnian doughnut here, and more on Herschel here. ®

Bootnote

*NASA explains: "At least four distinct plumes of water ice spew out from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Light reflected off Saturn is illuminating the moon while the Sun, almost directly behind Enceladus, is backlighting the plumes. This view looks toward the Saturn-facing side of Enceladus (504 kilometers across). North is up.

"The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 25, 2009. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 617,000 kilometers from Enceladus and at a Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 174 degrees. Image scale is 4 kilometers per pixel."

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
Moment of truth for LOHAN's servos: Our US allies are poised for final test flight
Will Vulture 2 freeze at altitude? Edge Research Lab to find out
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.