04 May 2009
From Cosmic Log at MSNBC.com:
"New research suggests the ice volcanoes blasting off Saturn's moon Enceladus are rooted in an underground sea, a finding that raises the prospect for microbial life.
Scientists have been trying to figure out what is happening on Enceladus to generate the icy geysers that have been photographed, analyzed and sampled by the Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft.
"This debate has been going on for years — whether there has been liquid water, whether there could be an underground ocean," Cassini scientist team member Candice Hansen-Koharcheck told Discovery News.
Astronomers used ground-based telescopes to look for molecules of sodium, which should be present if rock had mingled with liquid water. They didn't find any, silencing proponents making a case for a subsurface sea on Enceladus.
That point is now moot. At a meeting of European geoscientists in Vienna last week, Frank Postberg with Germany's Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics and colleagues explained that the sodium is, in fact, there — it was simply bound in a form (sodium chloride) not detectable by Earth-bound telescopes.
"This is only possible if the plume source is liquid water that is or has been in contact with the rocky material of Enceladus' core," the scientists wrote in the EGU General Assembly's 2009 Geophysical Research Abstracts.
Added Carolyn Porco, head of the Cassini imaging team, "Suffice it to say the prospects of a subsurface sea on Enceladus are excellent."
For the rest of this very interesting article just click on the title link. (Jury duty starts today for me - apologies for not being able to re-write this into a condensed form for you!)