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Steam eruptions of Enceladus using the James Webb Space Telescope

Steam eruptions of Enceladus using the James Webb Space Telescope

Recently, at a conference, the James Webb Space Telescope reported on steam eruptions observed by Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the size of which reached a greater distance from the moon than ever before, The find has been described in Nature. Enceladus – similar to Jupiter’s moon Europa – is a favorite terrain for astrobiologists, because of the potentially suitable conditions for life deep in its ocean. Enceladus could maintain these conditions with chemical energy through its hydrothermal vents at the bottom of its ocean, and it could supply the ocean with enough energy to sustain life. (Deep in our oceans, it is believed that living things can obtain energy using the method of single-celled organisms that live in similar places, i.e. chemosynthesis.) And if life is created, it could also escape from the Moon’s interior in water splashing through cracks in the crust.

It is easier to imagine the size of the Moon if we had a terrestrial comparison: it would fit comfortably in the North Sea area.

Source: NASA

The Cassini space probe discovered these steam eruptions in 2005, and its recordings were also quite amazing, moreover, based on its measurements, particles supposedly containing silicon from the ocean floor were also detected in these steam eruptions. After the probe had flown through these vapor eruptions several times, it also detected several additional components: for example methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia. However, although Cassini examined the moon from the “lodge,” it required a faraway view and a different kind of sensitive instrument in order to make the current discovery.

Steam explosions in a Cassini recording.

Source: NASA

On November 9, 2022, the measurement during which the James Webb Space Telescope collected data on Enceladus lasted only 4.5 minutes, and from it it was revealed that its vapor eruptions reached much further than what Cassini saw, signals from Enceladus that were also detected at a distance of several times its size. However, it is possible that the vapor that solidifies into very cold ice grains will form a very rare cloud, but this is not very good news for those who want to take a sample from it or perform other tests, as very few grains can travel for a long time. distance. James Webb also measured the spectrum of sunlight reflected from Enceladus. Data analysis is still ongoing, but the group of compounds detected in this way looks promising, from which we can glimpse the potential geology and biology of the ocean depths.

In addition, experts are already planning the next measurements, which will be carried out by James Webb, and they want to monitor them six times longer than the current one, and they will specifically aim to examine organic compounds.

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