Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice and vapor from many locations along the famed “tiger stripes” near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Courtesy NASA/JPL
Erupting from fractures, 101 geysers dot the surface of Saturn’s frozen moon, Enceladus, report NASA scientists. First spotted as plumes in 2005, the total number of geysers has been revealed by a long series of overflights by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
The geysers are “not a near-surface phenomenon but have much deeper roots,” says Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco, of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in a statement. They all erupt from a series of fractures on the southern polar regions of the moon, the so-called tiger stripes that are thought to vent a subsurface sea from beneath the moon’s icy crust.
The tiger stripes are each about 84 miles (135 kilometers) long, and are thought to result from tidal flexing of the moon’s frozen crust.
Discovery of the geysers has excited astrobiologists, who see water as a crucial ingredient for alien life. Proposals for future missions to Enceladus and Saturn have contemplated a lander sampling the geyser plumes.
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