Monday, March 13, 2006

Water Found on Saturnian Moon.

Thanks to fellow space enthusiast Em Jeigh, I bring you the following Sky and Telescope report about liquid water having been detected on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. Excerpt:

March 10, 2006 In this week's issue of the journal Science, astronomers working with Cassini
orbiter data publish a suite of papers detailing the story behind the active volcanism on Saturn's small moon Enceladus. The moon was long suspected to be the source of the water-ice particles forming Saturn's tenuous E ring. The latest work supports the idea that Enceladus has reservoirs of liquid water near the surface, which provide the source for active geysers in the southern hemisphere.

As reported in the June 2005, November 2005 and March 2006 issues of Sky & Telescope, the hopes for discovering evidence for liquid water near the icy moon's surface grew more promising through 2005 as the intrepid orbiter completed a series of close flybys of Enceladus. First, observations by the craft's magnetometer hinted of a possible atmosphere of primarily water-ice crystals around the moon. Then thermal measurements of the southern hemisphere located a "hot" spot where liquid water could exist just below the surface. Stellar-occultation measurements conclusively identified a tenuous atmosphere above the hot spot.

"Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust," says imaging team member Andrew Ingersoll (Caltech). "What's different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface."

This is potentially huge. Once we get off our collective asses and begin to spread out into the Solar System, water will be an even more precious commodity than it is now. If there are any more smart people left at NASA, they will have already started thinking about expeditions to set up permanent stations to gather and process this water. Maybe after the Bush team is finally retired, and we get some real leadership, we can concentrate on grand ideas like that for a change.

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