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NASA's Casinni Spacecraft Discovered Jets of Gas, Dirt on Saturn's 'Icy' Moon, Enceladus

May 09, 2016 03:59 AM EDT
Cassini Spacecraft Sends Picture Of Backlit Saturn
The Casinni Spacecraft discovered a change in behavior with jets of gas and dirt of Saturn's icy moon, Enceladus.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI via Getty Images)

With the enormous size of the Milky Way galaxy is it not surprising that we know very little about the planets within the solar system. After years of studying, jets of gas and dirt were discovered by the Casinni spacecraft while on the mission to observe Enceladus, Saturn's icy moon.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recently concluded a stargazing session with the Casinni spacecraft. They watched as a bright star passed behind the gas and dirt jets of Enceladus. From a layman's point of view, it sort of looks like a balloon with its gas escaping through tiny holes, but instead of just gas there appears to be dirt emanating from the moon as well.

The jets of gas and dirt bewildered the scientists because they weren't expecting to see that behavior.

"It appears that at least some of the narrow jets that erupt from the moon's surface blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn in its orbit" said in the report by JPL.

According to a press release by NASA's Cassini Mission to Saturn, the location of the gas emission is in line with the former findings of the spacecraft, "Jets of high-density gas detected by Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph on Saturn's moon Enceladus match the locations of dust jets determined from Cassini images".

It will still be awhile before scientists can explain how this geologic phenomena occurs but scientists at the JPL believes that this new findings will enable them to understand how the inner 'plumbing system' of the icy works and why it tends to emit gasses and dirt.

According to NASA the gas jets are made up 90 percent water vapor with dust grains, when spewed by Enceladus, the gas and dirt scatters into space and they become visible to space cameras just like the Casinni when sunlight passes by behind the moon's activity.

Scientists are eager to find out more about Enceladus because they believe that under the frozen ice sheets of Saturn's moon, there's an ocean world which may be suitable for life (or maybe even carry signs of any form of extinct inhabitants.

The Casinni Spacecraft arrived in Saturn in 2004 and will retire from its mission on 2017. It is equipped with an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer (or UVIS). Casinni "measured how water vapor in the plume dimmed the star's ultraviolet light, revealing how much gas the plume contained. Since lots of extra dust appears at this point in the moon's orbit, scientists expected to measure a lot more gas in the plume, pushing the dust into space."

Changes in the jet's activity suggest that something is changing. Larry Esposito, UVIS team lead at the University of Colorado explained that the increase in jets' activity is causing more icy dust to float into space.

Scientists and researchers will have to dig deeper, literally and figuratively, to find out what's happening inside the Icy moon, for the phenomena can only be explained once researchers have fully understood the "pipelines" inside the moon.

NASA with European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian space agency will collaborate of the Casinni-Hyugens mission to further study Enceladus using ultraviolet imaging spectrograph.


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