James Webb captured a huge water plume of Enceladus
(ASA; ESA; CSA; STScI; A. Pagan / STScI; G. Villanueva / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center https://bit.ly/42azaIJ)
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) saw a large plume and a torus of water molecules ejected from the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus by geysers.
The satellite turned out to be the main source of water in the Saturn system.
Saturn's icy moon Enceladus is known for having a subsurface ocean, several tens of kilometers deep
The existence of this ocean is supported by the heating of the bowels due to tidal forces from Saturn.
The ocean was opened up thanks to the Cassini spacecraft, which detected satellite fluctuations and plumes of water vapor ejected from a network of cracks near the south pole.
Hydrogen and organic molecules were found in them, which indicates hydrothermal activity on the ocean floor and its potential habitability, in particular, archaea can live in the ocean.
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Now astronomers of the Goddard Space Flight Center have presented the first near-infrared observations of Enceladus with the JWST's NIRSpec and NIRCam instruments on November 9, 2022.
The team led by Geronimo Villanueva discovered an extensive plume containing water molecules, extending up to 10 thousand kilometers (or 40 Enceladus radii) from Enceladus.
The plume was characterized by a temperature of about 25 kelvin.
The background radiation of water molecules was also observed, forming a torus around the orbit of Enceladus with an inclination of 15.2 degrees.
Thus, the satellite turned out to be the main source of water in the Saturn system.
The rate of water vapor production by Enceladus is 300 Km/s, and the torus contains about 2.5×1034 water molecules, which is equivalent to 32% of the molecules ejected from the surface of the satellite.
These results are similar to data obtained by Cassini and Herschel 13-15 years ago, indicating long-term stability of water vapor eruptions.
The search for other molecules (CO2, CO, CH4, C2H6, CH3OH), as well as ammonia ice, did not give any results.
- James Webb Telescope: https://esawebb.org/news/weic2314/
- NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2023/webb-maps-surprisingly-large-plume-jetting-from-saturn-s-moon-enceladus/
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/may/30/astronomers-see-6000-mile-water-vapour-plume-blasting-from-saturn-moon
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