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Direct detection of the Enceladus water torus with Herschel

Direct detection of the Enceladus water torus with Herschel

Publication date: 15 July 2011

Authors: P. Hartogh, E. Lellouch, et al.

Journal: Astronomy & Astrophysics
Volume: 532
Page: L2
Year: 2011

Copyright: ESO

Cryovolcanic activity near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus produces plumes of H2O-dominated gases and ice particles, which escape and populate a torus-shaped cloud. Using submillimeter spectroscopy with Herschel, we report the direct detection of the Enceladus water vapor torus in four rotational lines of water at 557, 987, 1113, and 1670 GHz, and probe its physical conditions and structure. We determine line-of-sight H2O column densities of ~4 × 1013 cm-2 near the equatorial plane, with a ~50 000 km vertical scale height. The water torus appears to be rotationally cold (e.g. an excitation temperature of 16 K is measured for the 1113 GHz line) but dynamically excited, with non-Keplerian dispersion velocities of ~2 kms-1, and appears to be largely shaped by molecular collisions. From estimates of the influx rates of torus material into Saturn and Titan, we infer that Enceladus' activity is likely to be the ultimate source of water in the upper atmosphere of Saturn, but not in Titan's.

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