Thursday, October 11, 2007

Weird Moons of Saturn Now Revealed

[photo:NASACassini space probe mosaic image shows Saturn's moon Enceladus]

by REBuzzz1

Scientists are discovering, bit by bit, more about the two moons of Saturn. Scientists using the Cassini space probe are able to get close-ups of these two mysterious strangers of the universe, Enceladus and Iapetus. First, Enceladus:

From AFP:
PARIS— Little by little, two moons of Saturn that rank among the enduring enigmas of the Solar System are shedding their mystery.

Using the orbiting US-Italian probe Cassini, scientists are getting astonishing close-up looks of Enceladus and Iapetus, two strange slaves of the Saturnian king.
Enceladus seethes with paradox.

Following an eccentric orbit in Saturn's outer ring, it is named after a giant of Greek mythology yet is just a tiddler, little more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) across.

Odder still, Enceladus's surface is a brilliant white shell of ice -- yet some believe that beneath it lurks a warm ocean, heated by the tidal friction of water molecules pulled by Saturn's gravity -- and if so, this could be a bet for harbouring life.

Enceladus' hotspot is the south pole, where geysers of vapour vent into space.
Thermal geysers, ice caps, tidal friction: all from a tiny space probe launched with some doubt as to whether it would complete it's journey to the outer reaches of our solar system; let alone send back photographs.
Astronomers at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, have carried out a thermal mapping of this region, and found that the jets correlate with the location of "tiger stripes", the name for fractures that run in parallel across the region.

"This is confirmation that the (vented) material's coming from the tiger stripes, or very near the tiger stripes," said Joseph Spitale, co-author with Carolyn Porco of the paper which appears on Thursday in Nature.

"What we've still to discover is what's causing the jetting," he told AFP.

"Tidal energy is probably the ultimate source of the heat, although the exact orbital mechanism that's maintaining that is not entirely agreed upon. Nor is there agreement on the fundamental physical structure that results in this material coming out."


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