Cassini Feels the Spray of the Sea

Artist's conception of Cassini-Huygens as it e...

Image via Wikipedia

Those who’ve followed this blog for a while know how much I like the Cassini probe that orbits the planet Saturn. It’s images fed the artwork on the cover of my book and I use the Cassini probe in a nifty way to lead into the astronomy presentation that I give to schools and other interest groups.

So you know I had to blog on this new development.  Cassini tasted the icy plumes coming from the geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and found that they’re composed of salt water.  This supports two important things that scientists have wondered about…

1> That Enceladus feeds material into Saturn’s E Ring.

2> That there really is liquid-water under the surface of Enceladus’ outer crust.

The first point is that Cassini tasted some of the material in the E Ring and found salt there.  Finding salt in the plume from Enceladus strengthens the theory that Enceladus feeds the ring.

The second point that when salt water freezes the salt is eventually forced out leaving pure water ice. So salt water in the plumes further confirms that they come from a liquid source under the surface and not some kind of throw-as-you-go thing from the icy surface itself. 

This is according to a new article in the science journal NATURE and seems to contradict findings made by Earth-based spectography that were published in that same source back in 2009.  

Giving rise to a third point, that to really know…you have to go.

The implications of this salt water thing on xenobiology are huge.  It means that the “Goldilocks Zone“, that orbital distance from a star where liquid water can exist, isn’t limited to the warmer areas close to the star.  If we take the planets in our solar system as an example of what happens around other stars, then we now have to allow for the possibility that life as we know it might even exist on or near planets in more distant, colder reaches.

It also proves…once again…that space is just really danged interesting.  😉

~ by Bill Housley on June 22, 2011.

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