Water from Enceladus feeds rings of Saturn
NASA has detected a liquid water sea beneath its icy exterior and, at it southern pole, geysers that shoot plumes of water – and perhaps lifeforms – high into space.
Now, it seems, those plumes might also be slowly depleting the moon's oceans, as a series of new NASA images captured by the Cassini spacecraft show them pumping the water into Saturn's rings.
The images above, which published in the Astronomical Journal, show long tendrils of ice dust originating from the moon’s south pole geysers and reaching into Saturn’s massive E-ring.
NASA explains the Images:
This collage, consisting of two Cassini images of long, sinuous, tendril-like features from Saturn’s moon Enceladus and two corresponding computer simulations of the same, illustrates how well the structures, and the sizes of the particles composing them, can be modeled by tracing the trajectories of tiny, icy grains ejected from Enceladus’ south polar geysers.
The figures labeled “a” and “c” are computer-enhanced images of the tendril structures near Enceladus that were taken at high solar phase angle (174 and 170 degrees, respectively); figures “b” and “d” are synthetic (computer-generated) images produced by following the trajectories of tiny, icy particles ejected from the 36 most active geysers (representing the top 50 percent of the moon’s total geysering activity) found on the south polar terrain. The match between real and synthetic images is quite good and strongly supports the suggestion that tendrils are produced by the moon’s geysers.
Astronomers will now turn their attention to studying how much mass Enceladus is losing from its oceans to Saturn’s orbit.