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Enceladus water plumes

Enceladus

Zero Point Energy is Real

Oceans in Deep Space: Europa & Now Enceladus

posted by Mr. Black July 1, 2011

Recent analysis of data collected by the Cassini spacecraft has revealed convincing evidence of a saltwater ocean beneath the ice crust of Saturn's Moon Enceladus.

This is the now the second confirmed ocean world within our solar system. The first was detected on Jupiter's moon Europa. Like Enceladus, Europa's ocean is encased within a thick ice crust. The center heated by intense gravitational fluctuations of it's region of space.

Of course, here on Earth - life is everywhere water can be found. So the prospect of life inside both of these vast ocean worlds is very high. Particularly for Enceladus, as results from analyzation of it's cryovolcanic ice plume particles (pictured below) are rich with salt. Most likely formed inside Enceladus mineral-rich saltwater ocean.

Enceladus water ejections

Above: Enceladus' enormous water vapor ejections contain particles rich with salt.

Yet perhaps even more significant, on the greater scale of things, is the confirmation of this now 'not so unique' configuration: star ---> gas giant --- > moons of gas giant ---> oceans in moons.

Scientists already know that our galaxy is filled with countless planets. Techniques innovated by astronomers in the late 20th century has led to an ongoing surge of planet discoveries. Of the planets detected so far, 534, most are gas giants. If our solar system is any indication, we can assume that gas giants have moons. And that these moons can vary greatly in their composition and nature. Many of which can be incredibly large, comparable to even our standard definition of a planet.

Now today, we can make another bold postulation: that a significant number of moons have their own source of energy. That their own neighborhood of moons, in combination with their gas giant host planet, create a tremendous source of heat from within.

What was once thought to be rock. Could now be ice. What was once thought to be slush, could now be pure liquid water. And what was once thought to be a galaxy of solar systems with only a few habitable zones for life: is now a galaxy full of habitable zones; more than ever thought possible before.

The probability of extraterrestrial environments that can support life has been increased exponentially. Life, it seems, is more promising than ever before.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, we have two vast ocean worlds unexplored right here in our own solar system. So which world to explore first?

 

Europa vs Enceladus
Jupiter's Europa

Originally discovered in 1610, it wasn't until the 1990's that signs of it's liquid ocean became obvious. Since then, astronomers have been tantalized by the possibility - and have been working to figure out how to penetrate the estimated 19 KM of ice to reach it's subsurface ocean. Among the challenges, is protecting the would-be space probe from the immense amount of radiation given off by nearby Jupiter.

 

Or Saturn's Enceladus ?

Very little was known about the moon until the first pass by Voyager in the 1980s. Today, after loads of data from the ongoing Cassini mission - NASA scientists say Enceladus "is emerging as the most habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it".

  • It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen, and an energy source... there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims.

 

First thing's first

Europa is roughly half the distance away than Enceladus, so theoretically a mission to the Jupiter moon would involve less time and fuel. Scientists have also had more time to evaluate and plan for Europa, noted by a series of proposed missions and cancellations over the past decade alone.

Either way, whether we choose to first visit Europa or Enceladus, an orbiter must come before a submersible probe. We simply need more data on how to solve the complex problem of landing spacecraft in such extreme environments. Yet Enceladus has a key feature that could make it more compelling for a short-term mission...

The active plumes of water vapor and ice crystals make it's outer region a rich source of scientific data. This kind of activity does not appear to be evident at Europa. So while we may not see a drilling mission anytime soon, scientists are already planning a spacecraft capable of capturing the Enceladus plume material - and returning it to Earth. The big advantage of this type of mission is that it can serve as both an orbiter and a sample return mission - all without the need for a landing. This is simply not possible at Europa.

So the big question we now face isn't which moon we should drill on first, it's where to send the next orbiter.

 

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