Astronomers Found Fresh Ice on Enceladus: What Should You Know

Fresh Ice on One of Saturn's Moon

Saturn’s moon Enceladus might seem quiet, but astronomers spotted something quite peculiar recently.

Using infrared wavelengths, a team of astronomers succeeded in finding that much of the ice over Enceladus’s entirety is fresh. Such a thing indicates that there might be global internal activity resurfacing Saturn’s moon. Here is what you need to know.

Fresh Ice Features

The infrared images from recently reexamined data captured by Cassini’s VIMS (the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) paint quite the picture. Where the bright red spots are, there is a signature of crystalline ice, in which the molecules are ordered in a repeating and neat geometric lattice. It also reflects infrared light differently from amorphous ice, with rolled higgledy-piggledy molecules. 

The crystalline ice indicates that the water has been warm, over 110 Kelvin – even after freezing, the molecules keep enough thermal energy to turn into a crystalline configuration. Most of the ice on Enceladus is crystalline, but its level is significant. 

So, if we spot ice that is more crystalline than the ice around it, we can assume it came from warmer water. But that’s not all. 

The team of astronomers supervised by Rozenn Robidel of the University of Nantes in France didn’t expect to discover a spectral signature of crystalline ice spread widely across the globe of Enceladus. 

More Results

The unexpected discovery indicates that geological activity has happened in both hemispheres and that the northern hemisphere has encountered similar resurfacing to the southern. And such a thing occur even if the mechanism might be a bit different. 

That activity is somehow related to seafloor hotspots, and the hotspots are likely to have a lifespan of approximately a few million years. 

“[…] one large region in the northern hemisphere appears also young and was probably active not that long ago, in geologic timelines,” detailed Gabriel Tobie, an astronomer of the University of Nantes.

The team also wants to apply their analysis methods to data gathered in the next Juice and Europa Clipper missions, to see what they can find about Jupiter’s icy moons Europa and Ganymede.

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