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NASA Cassini Saturn probe spots 101 geysers on Enceladus

31 July 2014, 8:47 am EDT By Sumit Passary Tech Times
Saturn probe Cassini spots 101 geyser on Enceladus. Scientists suggest that the sea under the ice shell of the moon may be responsible for geysers.  ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute )

The Saturn-orbiting spacecraft, Cassini, has spotted 101 geysers ejecting water vapor on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) suggest that the data was collected by Cassini and analysis indicates that it is likely for subsurface liquid water on Enceladus to reach its surface.

NASA launched the Cassini spacecraft in Oct. 1997, which entered Saturn's orbit on July 1, 2005. Since then, the spacecraft has been observing Saturn and its natural satellites. On June 30 this year, the spacecraft also celebrated its 10th anniversary and named its final mission.

NASA explains that Cassini's cameras has surveyed the terrain of Enceladus and observed the geysers on the moon.

According to NASA, the camera fitted on Cassini has observed the south polar terrain of Enceladus, which has a distinctive geological basin well-known for the four noticeable "tiger stripe" fractures, as well as geysers of water vapor and small ice particles which were first seen around 10 years back.  

"The result of the survey is a map of 101 geysers, each erupting from one of the tiger stripe fractures, and the discovery that individual geysers are coincident with small hot spots. These relationships pointed the way to the geysers' origin," per NASA.

The geysers were first spotted in 2005 and some scientists suggest that flexing of the moon by Saturn's tides as Enceladus orbits Saturn was responsible for the geysers. A theory also arose that rubbing of the opposite fractures' walls generates frictional heat, which turns ice into liquid and water vapor.

Another theory indicates that opening and closing of the fractures allowed the subsurface water vapor to reach the surface of the moon. Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says that the latest mission data collected from the Cassini spacecraft reveals that heat and near-surface phenomenon are not causing the geysers.

The gravity data of Cassini suggests that the only credible source that is forming the geysers is the sea, which lies under the ice shell of Enceladus.

Cassini has provided scientists with several significant discoveries and observations, which led NASA to extend the mission. The Cassini mission will run till 2017 and will continue to send data to the Earth before ending its mission by diving in Saturn's atmosphere. 

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