September 26, 2023

NASA’s Webb telescope spots a plume of water twice the length of the US spewing out of a Saturn moon that could harbor extraterrestrial life

close-up of gray moon with small plumes at bottom interspersed with grainy vista of same moon with giant blue plume 20 times larger

Enceladus as seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft (left) and the James Webb Space Telescope (right).NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute; NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC)

  • NASA’s Webb telescope revealed just how gigantic the plumes of water shooting out of a Saturnian moon are.

  • The water gushes 6,000 miles, or about twice the length of the US, from the moon called Enceladus.

  • The plume comes from a subsurface ocean, meaning the moon could harbor extraterrestrial life.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope spotted a giant plume of water spewing from a Saturn moon that could harbor extraterrestrial life. It creates a donut of water around the ringed planet.

Astronomers have seen water shoot out of the moon before, called Enceladus, but never like this.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft first spotted the mysterious spray at the moon’s south pole when it flew by in 2005. Before that, scientists thought Enceladus was an inert ball of ice. The plumes revealed something much more exciting: a global ocean deep beneath its frozen crust. That makes Enceladus one of our solar system’s top candidates for extraterrestrial life.

Cassini’s close-up images gave astronomers this vision of Enceladus:

dark moon enceladus horizon with white jets shooting into space

In this real-life image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, backlight from the sun spectacularly illuminates Enceladus’ water ice jets.NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

But the James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful observatory ever launched into space. So when scientists pointed their sites toward Enceladus, they saw the salty water plume on an unprecedented scale indicating that these plumes are much larger than previously thought.

Webb revealed a huge plume on Enceladus

Webb discovered a 6,000-mile burst of water — twice the length of the continental U.S. — NASA announced Tuesday.

pixelated image shows an extended pixelated blue plume emanating from a gray dot in space with a breakout image indicating the dot is the moon enceladus

A plume of water vapor spewing from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC)

“When I looked at the data, at first I thought I must be wrong,” Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a lead author of the new Webb findings, said in a press release. “It was just so shocking to discover a plume of water more than 20 times the size of the moon.”

The plume is long enough to stretch from Los Angeles, California, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. By comparison, Enceladus itself would fit comfortably b
etween Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The plumes explode off the moon’s surface into space at a rate of 79 gallons per second, which NASA says could fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in just two hours.

Enceladus formed a water donut around Saturn

About 30% of the water from the plumes then flows into a giant ring of water around Saturn called a torus, and the rest escapes into the planet’s water system.

“Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn is relatively fast, only 33 hours. As it orbits around Saturn, the moon and its jets actually spew out water, leaving behind a halo, almost like a doughnut,” Villanueva said.

illustration of Saturn surrounded by a ring of blue water from the moon enceladus with a burst of spectral data breaking up where the water is in the ring, plume, and center

An illustration shows the Webb telescope’s findings on how Enceladus feeds a donut of water around Saturn.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Leah Hustak (STScI); Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC)

“In the Webb observations, not only was the plume huge, but there was just water everywhere,” Villanueva said.

Saturn has at least 124 moons and Enceladus is one of the most interesting.

It is about 4% the size of the Earth. Any alien life in its subsurface ocean could draw energy from deep-sea vents, using chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis, as some deep-sea organisms do on Earth.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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