Saturn’s moon Enceladus has been identified as one of the most likely candidates for hosting simple forms of alien life in the solar system. And a new discovery by NASA suggests Enceladus really does have enough energy to support aliens.
Scientists used data from NASA’s now-dead Cassini spacecraft to create detailed images of the mysterious moon, revealing a surprising amount of geologic activity.
Cassini’s composite images are the most detailed global infrared views ever produced of Enceladus.
And the data used to assemble those images provides compelling evidence the moon’s northern hemisphere has been resurfaced with ice from its core.
Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) collected light reflected from ringed planet Saturn.
This cutting-edge instrument then filtered the light into various wavelengths to inform scientists about the makeup of this reflective material.
The resulting data combined with detailed images captured by Cassini was used to create the new global spectral map of Enceladus.
NASA scientists learned in 2005 how Enceladus spews incredible quantities of ice grains and vapour from a subterranean ocean beneath the icy crust.
The latest spectral map reveals infrared signals correlate with this geologic activity, easily visible at the south pole.
Here is where features dubbed “tiger stripe” gashes blast ice and vapour from the ocean buried under ice.
And some of the same infrared features also appear in the northern hemisphere.
This means the same kind of geologic activity has occurred in both hemispheres.
Dr Gabriel Tobie, a VIMS scientist with the University of Nantes and co-author of the new research, said in a statement: “The infrared shows us that the surface of the south pole is young, which is not a surprise because we knew about the jets that blast icy material there.
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“Now, thanks to these infrared eyes, you can go back in time and say that one large region in the northern hemisphere appears also young and was probably active not that long ago, in geologic timelines.”
Cassini was an orbiter sent on an ambitious mission to observe Saturn for more than 13 years before exhausting its fuel supply.
The orbiter was then instructed to plunge it into the planet’s atmosphere in 2017.
This was an attempt to protect the moon due to the increasing likelihood it has the conditions suitable for hosting alien life.
Enceladus’ ocean is probably heated and churned by hydrothermal vents not dissimilar to those on Earth’s oceanic floors.
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