Sunday, February 25, 2024

Saturn moon Enceladus has spreading Earth-like crust

Nasa has discovered evidence that one of Saturn’s moons has a spreading Earth-like crust, strengthening the theory that there is a liquid-water sea beneath the surface. High-resolution images taken by the Cassini spacecraft show that the icy surface of Enceladus has changed over time.
New crust is created from distinctive cracks known as “tiger stripes” that are similar to the mid-ocean ridges central to the tectonic system on our own planet.
On Earth the spreading of the sea floor is driven by molten rock; Nasa scientists speculate that the liquid beneath the south pole of Enceladus may be water.
“Bit by bit, we’re accumulating the evidence that there is liquid water on Enceladus,” Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute told the BBC.
“Of all the geologic provinces in the Saturn system that Cassini has explored, none has been more thrilling or carries greater implications than the region at the southernmost portion of Enceladus.”
Paul Helfenstein of Cornell University, who has also worked on the project, said: “Enceladus has Earth-like spreading of the icy crust, but with an exotic difference – the spreading is almost all in one direction, like a conveyor belt.
“We are not certain about the geological mechanisms that control the spreading, but we see patterns of divergence and mountain-building similar to what we see on Earth, which suggests that sub-surface heat and convection are involved.”
If there is liquid water on Enceladus, Nasa scientists believe Saturn’s sixth-largest moon could have the conditions necessary to sustain life.
Cassini is a project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn and studying its rings and moons since 2004.

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