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Saturn’s moon does comet impression

enc.jpgAfter last week’s news that organic material had been found in the atmosphere of a planet in a totally different solar system I find it hard to get hugely excited about organic molecules being found by the Cassini mission orbiting Saturn; but NASA scientists are apparently over the moon. (press release).

The moon in question is Enceladus, which is getting so much attention these days Saturn’s other satellites are said to be getting quite upset. Hunter Waite, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, explains the latest reason for the scientist’s fawning devotion to the winsome lump of ice:

A completely unexpected surprise is that the chemistry of Enceladus, what’s coming out from inside, resembles that of a comet. To have primordial material coming out from inside a Saturn moon raises many questions on the formation of the Saturn system.

This implication is that Enceladus might have formed in a slightly different way to the rest of the moons and planets.

enceelGraph.jpgDuring the Cassini probe’s flyby of Enceladus its mass spectrometer saw way more gas, water, carbon dioxide and organic material than expected — 20 times more in fact.

The probe also found higher temperatures than expected on fissures at the south pole. This means there’s more chance of liquid water somewhere on the Moon. All this adds up to that old chestnut that NASA loves dangling before everhopeful journalists: life in space!

“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” says Dennis Matson, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”

On another note, the south pole fissures are named after middle eastern cities. You can make up your own joke about Americans finding Baghdad hotter than expected…

Image upper: Voyager 2 mosaic of Enceladus / NASA

Image lower: Enceladus Plume Neutral Mass Spectrum / NASA


  1. Report this comment

    Nathan Myers said:

    Or maybe it means that present notions about how the solar system, moons, asteroids, and (particularly) comets formed were just made up based on no evidence at all, and will continue to collapse every time actual evidence surfaces. There’s no shame in having made them up in the first place, but there is in defending them vs. equally valid but more recent notions.

    Thus far no close observation of a comet has borne out any diagnostic prediction made by present notions of cometary origin. That’s hardly surprising, considering that the only support for present notions is that they were thought up before the present generation started work.

  2. Report this comment

    Leon A Davis said:

    I can’t begin to express the outrage I feel about this. I am beyond angry. I have done everything I can to prevent this from happening. I have converted to veganism. I eat only raw plants that have been organically grown and humanely harvested using fair trade values. I refuse to be transported by anything other than a human-powered vehicle. My apartment is totally energy-free lit only with candles made from organic bee wax. I wear only clothing made from natural plant fibers. My few pieces of furniture are constructed from naturally fallen dead tree branches. My only beverage is water. So now that I’ve done all this and more, THE EFFING ICE SHELF HAS STILL FALLEN OFF? You can well understand my anger and frustration. What’s that you say? Everybody in the whole wide world has to adopt my lifestyle to save the ice shelf? Well, what are you all waiiting for? Meanwhile, I take special comfort in my moral and ethical superiority to all you evil climate-deniers.

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