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Ice fountains from Saturn's moon Enceladus could be the key

Ice fountains from Saturn's moon Enceladus could be the key

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Enceladus' ice fountains could hold clues to possible life in the solar system. Researchers have now found a way to analyze it.

SAN DIEGO — In the 2000s, NASA's Cassini spacecraft conducted an insightful exploration of Saturn's moon Enceladus. She discovered that the orb was completely covered in ice. But this was not the only exciting discovery. Enceladus spews fountains of ice and water vapor into space. This indicates that there is an ocean inside it, and its liquid rises to the surface in this way.

Enceladus is one of the celestial bodies in the solar system that appears particularly promising in the search for potential life. The jets emanating from the moon are of great interest to science. Cassini discovered in these fountains carbon dioxide, water vapor, traces of nitrogen, inorganic phosphorus, ammonia, and some complex organic compounds.

The sixth largest moon of Saturn
252.1 km
About 500 km

Saturn's moon Enceladus is a potential candidate for life in the solar system

However, precise screening of organic molecules represents a research challenge. It was not clear whether it would be possible to capture the jets, which shot out from the celestial body at a speed of approximately 1,500 kilometers per hour, without destroying the material being examined. However, a research team has now shown that this is possible.

Scientists at the University of California San Diego were able to simulate the situation in the laboratory and found that the amino acids found in the fountains can withstand collision speeds of up to 15,100 km/h. The results of these experiments were published in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published.

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Saturn's moon Enceladus shoots jets of water into space. (File photo) © Imago/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Cover Images

Ice fountains could be intercepted from Enceladus

“To get an idea of ​​what kind of life might be possible in the solar system, you have to know that the ice grains in the samples are not very molecularly fragmented, so you can get the fingerprint of what makes them a distinct model of life,” study leader Robert Continetti said in one notice. “Our work shows that this is possible with Enceladus’ ice fountains.” This new discovery is also important for Jupiter's moon Europa, which is also suspected to have an ocean in its interior.

Continetti is pleased with his research group's results: “The implications for discovering life elsewhere in the solar system without sending missions to the surface of these ocean moons are very exciting.” (unpaid bill)

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