October 4, 2023

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The Webb Space Telescope detects a 6,000-mile water column flow from Saturn’s moon Enceladus

The Webb Space Telescope detects a 6,000-mile water column flow from Saturn’s moon Enceladus

An artist’s impression of the Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes emanating from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Much like geysers, these plumes expel a mixture of water vapor, ice grains, salts, methane, and other organic molecules. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The interaction between the moon’s poles and Saturn’s ring system has been explored using Webb

Enceladus – a small frozen moon[{” attribute=””>Saturn—is one of the most intriguing objects in the search for signs of life beyond our own planet.

Under a crust of ice lies a global ocean of salty water. Jets, supplied by that ocean, gush from the surface of the moon and feed into the entire system of Saturn. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s long-awaited first look at this ocean world is already revealing staggering new details about the moon — including a plume of water vapor that spouts out more than 20 times the size of the moon itself.

Enceladus Plume (Webb NIRSpec and Cassini Image)

An image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) shows a water vapor plume jetting from the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, extending out more than 20 times the size of the moon itself. The inset, an image from the Cassini orbiter, emphasizes how small Enceladus appears in the Webb image compared to the water plume. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Webb Space Telescope Maps Surprisingly Large Plume Jetting From Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

A water vapor plume from Saturn’s moon Enceladus spanning more than 6,000 miles – nearly the distance from Los Angeles, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina – has been detected by researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Not only is this the first time such a water emission has been seen over such an expansive distance, but Webb is also giving scientists a direct look, for the first time, at how this emission feeds the water supply for the entire system of Saturn and its rings.

Enceladus, an ocean world about four percent the size of Earth, just 313 miles across, is one of the most exciting scientific targets in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. Sandwiched between the moon’s icy outer crust and its rocky core is a global reservoir of salty water. Geyser-like volcanos spew jets of ice particles, water vapor, and organic chemicals out of crevices in the moon’s surface informally called ‘tiger stripes.’

Previously, observatories have mapped jets hundreds of miles from the moon’s surface, but Webb’s exquisite sensitivity reveals a new story.

Researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently discovered a plume emerging from the moon’s south pole that is more than 20 times the size of the moon itself. This animation shows how the moon’s water plumes feed the planet’s torus. By analyzing Webb’s data, astronomers have determined that roughly 30 percent of the water stays inside this torus, and the other 70 percent escapes to supply water to the rest of Saturn’s system. Credit: Leah Hostak (STScI), NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

“When I was looking at the data, at first, I was thinking I must be wrong. It was pretty awful to discover a plume of water more than 20 times as massive,” said lead author Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. the size of the moon.” “The water column extends well beyond its Antarctic release zone.”

Column length wasn’t the only feature that piqued the researchers’ interest. The water vapor flow rate, about 79 gallons per second, is also impressive. At this rate, you could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just two hours. By comparison, doing this with a garden hose on the ground would take more than two weeks.

the[{” attribute=””>Cassini orbiter spent over a decade exploring the Saturnian system, and not only imaged the plumes of Enceladus for the first time but flew directly through them and sampled what they were made of. While Cassini’s position within the Saturnian system provided invaluable insights into this distant moon, Webb’s unique view from the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 one million miles from Earth, along with the remarkable sensitivity of its Integral Field Unit (see video below) aboard the NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) Instrument, is offering new context.

The James Webb Space Telescope will use an innovative instrument called an Integrated Field Unit (IFU) to capture images and spectra at the same time. This video provides a basic overview of how IFU works. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and L. Hustak (STScI)

“Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn is relatively fast, only 33 hours. As it orbits Saturn, the moon and its jets essentially spit out water, leaving behind a halo, like a donut,.” “In Webb’s notes, not only was the plume huge, but there was water absolutely everywhere.”

Described as a torus, this mysterious donut of water that appears “all around” lies in one place with Saturn’s outer and wider ring – the dense “e-ring”.

Webb’s observations directly illustrate how plumes of water vapor on the Moon feed the torpedo. By analyzing Webb’s data, astronomers have determined that roughly 30 percent of the water stays inside this torus, and the other 70 percent seeps out to supply the rest of the Saturnian system with water.

In the coming years, Webb will serve as the primary observing instrument for the ocean moon Enceladus, and discoveries from Webb will help inform future solar system satellite missions that will investigate the depth of the subsurface ocean, how thick the icy crust is, and more.

Enceladus Water Emission Spectrometer (Webb NIRSpec IFU)

The remarkable sensitivity of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and highly specialized instruments reveal details of how one of Saturn’s moons fed the entire system of the ringed planet with its water supply. Enceladus, a prime candidate in the search for life elsewhere in our solar system, is a tiny moon about four percent the size of Earth. New images from NIRSpec (Near Infrared Spectrometer) on Webb have revealed an outflow of water vapor from Enceladus’ south pole, extending more than 20 times the size of the moon itself. The Integrated Field Unit (IFU) aboard NIRSpec also provided insight into how water from Enceladus feeds into the rest of its surrounding environment.
Enceladus orbits Saturn in just 33 hours, and as it does, it squirts water and leaves behind a torus — or “doughnut” — of material in its wake. This episode is depicted in the top diagram in light blue.
Webb’s IFU is a combination of a camera and a spectrophotometer. During IFU monitoring, the instrument captures an image of the field of view along with the individual spectra of each pixel in the field of view. The IFU observations allow astronomers to investigate how properties — in this case composition — vary from place to place over a region of space.
The unique sensitivity of Webb’s IFU allowed the researchers to detect several water lines emerging from the torus around Enceladus and the plume itself. This simultaneous collection of spectra from the shaft and ring allowed the researchers to better understand their close relationship. In this spectrum, the white lines are the data from Webb, and the best-fit models for water emissions are overlaid in different colors—purple for the plume, green for the central region of the moon itself, and red for the surrounding ring.
Credit: Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC), NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Leah Hostack (STScI)

“Right now, Webb provides a unique way to directly measure how water has evolved and changed over time through Enceladus’ massive plume, and as we see here, we’ll even make new discoveries and learn more about the composition of the underlying ocean,” added co-author Stephanie Milam at NASA Goddard. “Because of Webb’s wavelength coverage and sensitivity, and what we learned from previous missions, we have a whole new opportunity ahead of us.”

Webb’s observations of Enceladus were completed under the Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) 1250 program. The initial goal of this program is to demonstrate Webb’s capabilities in a specific area of ​​science and pave the way for future studies.

said Heidi Hamel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Webb interdisciplinary scientist and GTO program leader.

The team’s findings were recently accepted for publication in natural astronomy On May 17th.

Reference: “JWST Molecular Mapping and Characterization of the Water Column on Enceladus that Feeds Its Torus” by G.L. Villanueva, HB Hammel, SN Milam, V. Kofman, S. Faggi, CR
Glein, R. Cartwright, L. Roth, KP Hand, L. Paganini, J. Spencer, J. Stansberry, B. Holler, N. Rowe-Gurney, S. Protopapa, G. Strazzulla, G. Liuzzi, G. Cruz Marmi, Muhammad al-Mutamad, Muhammad Hedman and K. Dini, Maqbool. natural astronomy.

As the world’s premier space science observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe mysterious structures and the origins of the universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partner, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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