Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Saturn's Enceladus Spewing Water Or Clathrate? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas
One of the geysers of the ice moon Enceladus (nick named "cold faithful") may not be spewing out water as previously thought. Scientists have discovered new chemicals within the spray, leading to researchers to think that Enceladus may have more under the surface than H20.

( "A problem with this model is that 10 percent of the plume consists of the gases carbon dioxide, nitrogen and methane," said lead study author, Susan Kieffer, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "You might get a carbon dioxide-driven liquid geyser there, but you can't put this much nitrogen and methane into liquid water at the low pressures found inside Enceladus."

Nitrogen and methane, almost insoluble in water, are highly soluble in clathrate. When exposed to vacuum, the gas molecules burst out, ripping the ice lattice to shreds and carrying the fragments away.

Although probably a century away from human exploration, Enceladus is proving to be an interesting moon to explore. If the methane concentration is high enough, it may not be surprising in the future to find its surface dotted with "ice rigs" pumping fuel towards the surface (although you get some protests from space environmentalists).

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