December 13, 2007

Hotspots on Enceladus

Hot spots on Enceladus have lead scientists to believe that it might be less than dead than previously thought, as outlined by William McKinnon in his presentation "Cold Fire: The Geology and Geophysics of Enceladus," on Dec. 10, 2007, at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

There is clear evidence now that the icy satellite of Saturn in geologically active. Plumes of ice and vapor are being ejected into the atmosphere, and for this to happen, the temperature has to bee at least 100 degrees C hotter than previously thought.

Enceladus actually isn't cold enough for this to happen, however, a "hot spot" near the south pole is. The thought for this mechanism, similar to the oceans of Europa, is the gravitational pull of Saturn on the moon causings the crust of water ice to rub along fault lines, creating enough firction heat to expel water "smoke" into the atmosphere.

Even though water is present, the existance of life is unlikely, according to McKinnon, because the water shows no sodium content. Sodium content is associated with subterranean water coming in contact with rocks and other minerals.