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Liquid water on Enceladus from observations of ammonia and 40Ar in the plume

Liquid water on Enceladus from observations of ammonia and 40Ar in the plume

Publication date: 24 July 2009

Authors: Waite Jr, J.H. et al.

Journal: Nature
Volume: 460
Issue: 7254
Page: 487-490
Year: 2009

Copyright: Nature Publishing Group

Jets of water ice from surface fractures near the south pole of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus produce a plume of gas and particles. The source of the jets may be a liquid water region under the ice shell - as suggested most recently by the discovery of salts in E-ring particles derived from the plume - or warm ice that is heated, causing dissociation of clathrate hydrates. Here we report that ammonia is present in the plume, along with various organic compounds, deuterium and, very probably, 40Ar. The presence of ammonia provides strong evidence for the existence of at least some liquid water, given that temperatures in excess of 180 K have been measured near the fractures from which the jets emanate. We conclude, from the overall composition of the material, that the plume derives from both a liquid reservoir (or from ice that in recent geological time has been in contact with such a reservoir) as well as from degassing, volatile-charged ice.

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