Wet Saturn’s moon Enceladus may be rapidly flinging microbes into space, scientists say

Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus, has a secret. About 12 miles below the icy crust of this “veined eyeball” moon is a warm, dark, saltwater ocean that’s thought to have the same types of hydrothermal vents found in Earth’s oceans — and where microbes live thrive.

Does the same thing happen on Enceladus?

We’re probably not talking about strange eyeless sea creatures, mostly because the total biomass that the moon’s subsurface ocean could support could be less than that of a whale.

It is known that tiny icy silica particles from the sea floor are eventually flung out into space from cracks in the ice known as “tiger stripes” near the warmer south pole of Enceladus. These particles further help form Saturn’s second-outermost E ring.

But they could also contain biosignatures — the first evidence of any kind of life beyond Earth.

MORE FROM FORBESAny biomass on Saturn’s “snowball moon” Enceladus could be no bigger than a whale in total, scientists say

However, planetary researchers do not yet know how this silicon dioxide gets into space and how long it takes.

Published in Communication Earth & Environmentnew research using data on Enceladus’ orbit, ocean and geology collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is shedding light on the process.

It shows that it takes only a few months for tidal heating in the rocky core of Enceladus to generate currents that transport silica from deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

“Our research shows that these currents are strong enough to pick up materials from the sea floor and carry them to the ice sheet separating the ocean from the vacuum of space,” said Ashley Schoenfeld, group leader and UCLA graduate student in planetary science. in an opinion.

“The tiger stripe fractures that slice the ice sheet into this subsurface ocean can serve as direct channels for captured materials to be flung out into space… Enceladus is giving us free samples of what lies deep beneath the surface.”

MORE FROM FORBESSeven things you need to know about NASA’s new $4.9 billion mission to Enceladus, a tiny moon of Saturn

There is already a mission being tentatively explored by NASA to “taste” the silica being hurled into space.

The Enceladus Orbilander mission would have a spacecraft orbit the moon twice a day for 200 days specifically to examine its feathers. Then it would land, staying at the surface for a few years to study the plume material that has fallen back to the surface – and what makes Enceladus so bright and reflective.

The mission is scheduled for an October 2038 launch (with a November 2039 backup) to arrive in 2050.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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