Webb telescope detects water column “20 times the size of the moon” erupting from Enceladus

The James Webb Space Telescope has detected a 6,000-mile-long column of frozen water erupting from vast cracks in the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

“When I was looking at the data, at first, I was thinking I must be wrong. It was absolutely shocking to discover a water column more than 20 times the size of the moon,” explained Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centerlead author of a new research paper describing the event, Which will be published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “The water column extends well beyond its Antarctic release zone.”

Scientists believe that the vast mass of water is being pulled through fissures known as “tiger stripes” in Enceladus’s miles-thick icy crust, from the supposed global subsurface ocean beneath.

New image of Enceladus' 6,000-mile water column.  Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center).  Image processing: a.  Bagan (STScI) <br />src=”https://assets-prd.ignimgs.com/2023/06/01/europa-plume-1685637373116.png?width=1280&fit=bounds&height=720&quality=20&dpr=0.05″ class=”jsx-2920405963 progressive- image article-image article-image-full-size jsx-2407332289 jsx-3166191823 rounded loading”/></a></p>
<p class=New image of Enceladus’ 6,000-mile water column. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Image processing: A. Pagan (STScI)

Although it measured 313 milesAnd Appearing as little more than a pixel in the new JWST image (above), Enceladus is dwarfed by the massive plume of frozen material spewing from the moon, which scientists believe is flowing into space at a staggering 79 gallons. per second.

Enceladus has a relatively tight orbit around Saturn, which allows it to complete a full revolution once every 33 hours. As it moves along its circular path, the plume moves away from the Moon, forming a donut-shaped cloud of water ice in Enceladus’ wake, which is known as a “torus.” It is estimated that about 30% of the mass of water remains in this halo, while the remainder travels outward into the Saturnian system.

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“Right now, Webb provides a unique way to directly measure how water has evolved and changed over time through Enceladus’ massive plume, and as we see here, we’ll even make new discoveries and learn more about the composition of the underlying ocean,” he said. NASA Goddard’s Stephanie Milam, co-author on the new paper. “Because of Webb’s wavelength coverage and sensitivity, and what we learned from previous missions, we have a whole new opportunity ahead of us.”

The global ocean moons of Saturn and Jupiter are among the most promising places to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system. The JWST is due to capture more data about the shaft next year, at which point it will, too Study of the chemical elements on the surface of Enceladusin an attempt to shed more light on the habitability of the alien world.

Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video game news for IGN. He has more than eight years of experience covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and there is absolutely no time to fool you. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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