content long 25-September-2018 22:30:07

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10-12 years old: Ice plumes at the south pole of Enceladus

 Author: Bryony Few

I have decided to pick Enceladus plumes as the most interesting Cassini project. I picked this because of the unique contrast between Earth and Enceladus. The exciting concept of a icy, underground ocean is something we believe should be investigated further. It is unheard of, for a planet so distant to earth to be so similar. Maybe even to the extent of them both having the rarity of life? Like earth the moon is covered with a blanket of ocean, but in the case of Enceladus the water is frozen. The surface is silky smooth in some areas and bright white all over, thus making it highly reflective. So reflective in fact, that it is the most reflective body in the solar system! This also means it is extremely cold, because it reflects the sun light away making it -201 degrees Celsius.

What caused the water to freeze? What was it like before? Did life exist, or indeed does it still beneath the layers of ice? These are questions that we would like answered and we believe studying the plumes may be the key.

Enceladus is one of the 62 moons of Saturn and is only 314 miles in diameter, meaning it would fit within the length of the United Kingdom.

Before the Cassini project little was known about Enceladus and it wasn't until 2005 that the Enceladus plumes were discovered. They are geysers they spray icy particles and water vapour, released from the ocean below its surface. Also, they powerful enough to generate an enormous halo of fine ice dust around Enceladus, which supplies material to one of Saturn's rings- the E ring. The substance shoots out at about 800 miles per hour (400m/s) and forms a plume that extends hundreds of miles into space.

The E ring is mostly made of ice droplets, but Cassini also detected silica nano grains, which can only be generated where liquid water and rock interact at temperatures above 90 degrees celsius. This points to hydrothermal vents deep beneath Enceladus' icy shell. These maybe similar to the hydrothermal vents that be found on earth.

We think the possibility of life outside of earth is much more interesting and a better use of money than the other options.

Titans lakes may be interesting but would provide us with less scientific knowledge than Enceladus could provide. Equally, while investigating Saturn's hexagon may give us more information on the bizarre cloud pattern and the churning storm at its centre, this will not help us answer a more pressing scientific issue- is there life outside of earth?

To conclude, I feel the project Cassini should focus on is investigating Enceladus' plumes. The beauty of the planet and its icy surface can be seen from the photos taken by the Cassini probe, these photos only give us a glimpse of the wonders that may lie below its surface.


Last Update: 19 May 2017

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