Arctic could help explore the subglacial ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus

(ORDO NEWS) — During an expedition to the Aurora hydrothermal field on the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean, astrobiologists with the support of NASA identified a place that could be an excellent analogue of similar hydrothermal systems on other ocean worlds.

Aurora is closer to the North Pole than any other known hydrothermal system, and is the first area of ​​the seafloor to be under permanent ice cover.

During the expedition, a recently formed volcanic mound with a diameter of more than 100 meters was discovered. This is unusually large for a volcano vent on what is known as a slow-spreading ridge on the ocean floor.

Slow spreading ridges are places where the oceanic crust is gradually pulled apart, causing the sea floor to break up into ridges and valleys. Collecting samples of plume material emerging from the vent, scientists have discovered other features of this hydrothermal system.

A team of astrobiologists talks about what processes take place under the seafloor and how they were able to form the observed system. This information could play an important role in the study of icy worlds such as Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.

The Gakkel Ridge vent system is much like that predicted for Enceladus, and it can spontaneously synthesize materials important for the origin of life on this and other ice-covered oceanic worlds.

Arctic could help explore the subglacial ocean of Saturns moon Enceladus 2
A snapshot of one of the active vents of the Aurora

“We have to pinch ourselves, because it turns out that the first vent source tracked in the Arctic is a very useful analogy for answering questions related to Enceladus research,” said Chris German , a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

In a recent review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Enceladus was featured prominently as a future target for detailed study. A new study shows how useful Arctic hydrothermal vents could be when planning future missions to look for possible evidence of life in the outer solar system .

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