The James Webb Space Telescope has detected a 6,000-mile plume of water flowing into space from Saturn’s small, ice-covered moon Enceladus, creating a massive water cloud in the ringed planet’s orbit.
Saturnmoon Enceladus It is one of the most likely places in Solar System that may harbor extraterrestrial life. the new James Webb Space Telescope The JWST note suggests that the Large Telescope may play a role in helping scientists decide the best way to search for it.
NASA led Cassini mission Water plumes were spotted on Enceladus in 2005 during a series of close flybys. But in that time, scientists have gained only a limited understanding of how powerful these geysers actually are. Now, JWST has allowed scientists to take another look at these water jets and examine their composition. “With the James Webb telescope, we can measure water from afar and see the entire landscape for the first time,” Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study told Space.com.
Related: Enceladus: Everything you need to know about Saturn’s bright, icy moon
Webb’s measurements revealed that the barely 300-mile-wide (500-kilometer) Enceladus torrent of water is flowing at a speed of 79 gallons (360 liters) per second. statementfast enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with water in two hours.
Although scientists expected to detect water on Enceladus, the result of Webb’s first observation of the moon came as a surprise.
“When we planned it, we thought we were going to see a little bit of water near the surface,” Villanueva said. “We never expected this kind of water emission.”
The measurements revealed that, despite its small size, Enceladus has a significant impact on the environment around the gas giant that orbits it in less than two days. The geyser creates a huge water cloud in the wake of the moon that sits in Saturn’s orbit and spreads out toward the planet’s other moons. Data analysis revealed that only 30% of the water that makes up the donut-shaped water cloud is still in place. The rest, about 70%, spreads out over the rest of the Saturnian system and beyond, according to NASA.
Scientists are now curious about what could be spread throughout the solar system with this powerful spray. Analysis of Cassini data previously found particles in the Enceladus plume that may be a sign of life, such as methanecarbon, oxygen and phosphorus. Scientists believe that the young moon has all the prerequisites for the emergence of simple forms of life, as its liquid ocean lies between a thick crust of ice and a rocky core that provides a source of nutrients.
The moon’s proximity to Saturn also means that the core is subject to massive gravitational forces that are likely to generate heat within the moon and with it, possibly, chemical reactions that may help microorganisms emerge.
However, Villanueva said Webb found no traces of these molecules during his first look at the intriguing world of water.
“We didn’t see them in these measurements, but we hope that if there are things, we will be able to detect them in the future,” Villanueva said.
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