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Saturn's Tidal Tugs Energize Enceladus' Icy Plumes

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the fun-with-gravity dept.

Space 27

astroengine writes "Giant plumes of water vapor and ice particles blast from geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus — but scientists have often wondered why the relatively diminutive moon, which measures only 310 miles across, wasn't frozen solid. They also began creating computer models to try to unravel the physics behind the stunning geological phenomenon. Now, after analyzing 252 images of Enceladus' plumes, scientists have part of the answer: Gravitational variations during the moon's slightly eccentric, 1.37-day orbit around Saturn create tidal forces that directly impact how much material is shot into space from four fissures around the moon's south pole. 'It's not a subtle variation. You can look at some of the images and you can actually see it with your eyes. It's very dramatic,' said planetary scientist Matthew Hedman."

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Firsty Thirsty (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44440005)

To the PISTY!

-- Ethanol-fueled

Newsflash! (0)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44440061)

Gravity Affects Stuff!

Film at 11.

No, I'm certain there are very important scientific discoveries being made here, but that's how it looks to the layman.

Re:Newsflash! (4, Informative)

bmo (77928) | about a year ago | (#44440215)

It's not news that tidal forces can keep moons from freezing solid. Io is one of them and we've known about that since we saw vulcanism from Voyager 1.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanology_of_Io [wikipedia.org] .

And we've calculated that Enceladus should also be similarly kneaded.

It's news that we're able to see the tidal distortion "directly."

--
BMO

Re:Newsflash! (1)

macraig (621737) | about a year ago | (#44440219)

That snark was uncalled for.

Re:Newsflash! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44440329)

That snark was uncalled for.

Uh... isn't that true of pretty much all snark?

Re:Newsflash! (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about a year ago | (#44445013)

I dunno, Gordon Freeman was able to use a few snarks as homing grenades that one time...

Re:Newsflash! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44447357)

Don't make me equip the crowbar, smartass.

Re:Newsflash! (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | about a year ago | (#44440253)

Gravity Affects Stuff!

Talk about burying the lead. The big news here is

you can actually see it with your eyes

And all this time I've been trying to see stuff with my feet. Could be why I'm not a rocket surgeon.

Re:Newsflash! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44440327)

you can actually see it with your eyes

And all this time I've been trying to see stuff with my feet. Could be why I'm not a rocket surgeon.

Sounds like you should be running for public office instead.

Re:Newsflash! (1)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about a year ago | (#44440381)

but that's how it looks to the layman

How do you know? You a scientist or something?

Re:Newsflash! (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#44440649)

but that's how it looks to the layman

How do you know? You a scientist or something?

Mad scientist, yes. That's how I know what the world looks like through a layman's eyes - I have a couple I keep on the shelf for just such an occasion.

Mwa ha ha.

A more extensive analysis... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44440099)

Accompanying the paper in Nature is an article summarizing the topic. [nature.com]

Disclaimer: Now I have to buy Spencer a beer after work today and congratulate him for getting published in Nature... The second scientist [nature.com] in the office this month.

Maybe this is how the rings formed (1)

drdread66 (1063396) | about a year ago | (#44440303)

So tidal forces manipulate this moon enough to cause fissures to open, and stuff comes pouring out from underneath! Sounds like a fracture in progress to me, but one that hasn't torn the moon apart yet. It also sounds like there's some sort of elasticity in play; it's hard to imagine the self gravity of this small an object being a major force. So maybe when enough stuff escapes that the moon stops being elastic enough to recover from the tidal fissures, it fractures and splits?

Sounds like a perfect recipe for turning big rocks into small ones...that then resemble the stuff making up Saturn's rings.

Methinks we are seeing ring formation as a live event.

Re:Maybe this is how the rings formed (1)

idontgno (624372) | about a year ago | (#44440365)

It would have to freeze through first. If Enceladus were a solid ice cube (spheroid?), it might be brittle enough to fail by accumulated fracturing. But the tidal kneading that's cracking the surface is also keeping the core of the moon liquid. That's why it spews stuff through the cracks and why it mends itself again after a little while: the cracks seal themselves through surface freezing that deepens until it's as solid as the surrounding ice.

Think of arctic icepack growing and breaking up in an annual cycle, but driven not by seasons but by tidal stress heating over the course of its 1 1/3 day orbit.

Re:Maybe this is how the rings formed (1)

drdread66 (1063396) | about a year ago | (#44440441)

That was sort of my point. If the plumes carry away water made liquid from the tidal heating ((even a little at a time), eventually Enceladus will "run out" of water and what's left will be solid non-water material. At that point it could fracture all the way through. Oh, and the water plumes will freeze quickly once they escape, creating ice crystals, a process which would add material to the rings as well.

Am I missing something?

Re:Maybe this is how the rings formed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44445709)

Am I missing something?

The rings are almost pure water ice. So your point about the water plumes adding material to the rings could be true. But the rings are definitely not rocky, so the "shredded moon" theory is not likely.

Re:Maybe this is how the rings formed (1)

dunng808 (448849) | about a year ago | (#44440459)

Sounds like an interesting place to visit. Those geysers shooting up sound kind of sexy. How long until Sandals opens a resort there?

Out of context... (2, Funny)

Verdatum (1257828) | about a year ago | (#44440423)

This is one of the filthiest subject lines I've ever read on /.

Re:Out of context... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44440619)

If you think that's bad, wait until the next Uranus story. Problem is, reporters refuse to cover Uranus (no pun intended).

Re:Out of context... (1)

saturnianjourneyman (2913341) | about a year ago | (#44445605)

I don't want to associate "icy plumes" with Uranus... or anybody's.

Re:Out of context... (1)

pyg (10303) | about a year ago | (#44440653)

I thought it had a certain poetic ring to it but I can think like you.

Re:Out of context... (1)

Tatarize (682683) | about a year ago | (#44441243)

Really because it sounds pretty easy to make it worse and more overt.

--------- Saturn gives Enceladus a gravitational tugjob causing ejaculations. ---------

The way it's written now, seems far more poetic.

1.37 days? (1)

BoRegardless (721219) | about a year ago | (#44440651)

218 earth days for a full orbit.

Shrinker? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year ago | (#44440663)

I wonder if that moon used to be almost Titan-sized, but shrank over time by blowing its load out into space. If it's a steamer at such a small size, it must have really been wild when it was larger and had more mass and volume for tidal forces to tug at.

Better headline: (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about a year ago | (#44440731)

Huge member (of the solar system) stimulates insides to wet eruption

Great but.... (1)

dragon-file (2241656) | about a year ago | (#44441751)

What does this have to do with the price of water on mars?
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