October 4, 2010
This image shows a new explanation for what feeds the mysterious jets spraying from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus: a subsurface "Perrier" ocean of slightly bubbly seawater. The new model makes sense of data previously collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Cassini had detected sodium and potassium salts and carbonates indicative of a liquid, subsurface ocean. It had also found some organic particles and a large amount of heat flow over a small area. The "Perrier" ocean model appears to explain these phenomena.
This graphic is laid on top of a picture of the Enceladus jets taken by Cassini's imaging cameras in November 2009. It shows bubbles in seawater traveling through a passage in the ice crust to feed a geyser. Seawater flows back down to the subsurface ocean through cracks in the ice.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.