(ORDO NEWS) — Saturn’s own winter wonderland, Enceladus, may be in the midst of relative drought, according to new snowdrift thickness measurements taken by a team of researchers from across the US.
Calculations based on the size of a series of depressions called chains of tectonic pits suggest that deposits of ice particles falling from polar geysers can reach a depth of 700 meters (about 2300 feet) in some places, which modern eruptions cannot explain. /p>
The findings could mean the frozen moon had much more active moments in the past, according to a new study by first author and physicist Emily Martin of the National Air and Space Museum.
Even though Enceladus is only 500 kilometers (just over 300 miles) in diameter, it is a sparkling jewel in Saturn’s icy crown.
Not only is the moon covered in a highly reflective icy shell, it harbors a deep, liquid ocean of salt water that is begging for signs of life.
Thanks to the regular tug-of-war between Saturn and the more distant moon Dione, Enceladus’s frozen shell is regularly massaged by tidal forces, to the point where cracks form in the moon ‘s thinner regions of the Earth‘s crust. s south pole.
Pressurized water enters these cracks, where it expands and evaporates, becoming a supersonic swirl of momentarily frozen particles in a near-vacuum.
And some of that frozen ocean spray finds its way into orbit around Saturn, contributing to its magnificent rings.
Heavier particles fall back onto the lunar surface , forming drifts that planetary scientists classify as a form of regolith.
In 2017, American researchers released high-resolution images from the Cassini mission detailed what they claimed were geological formations called pit chains dotting the surface of Enceladus.
On other planetary bodies, including the Earth, these crater-like structures can form when surface material suddenly sinks into voids, such as lava tubes or karst cave systems.
Excluding the source of collisions and a number of other geological phenomena, planetary scientists came to the conclusion that there are round and elliptical pits, some of which reach a kilometer in diameter. – were formed as the cracks in the earth’s crust widened and widened under loose deposits of regolith.
Conveniently, the width and depth of the pits alone can tell researchers something about the properties and formation of the regolith crumbling in them, including its approximate thickness.
When applied to the craters on Enceladus, the formulas showed that the average snow thickness is about 250 meters, and some depths are about 700 meters.
Considering the rate at which plumes of icy ocean water could deliver the required amount of snow, one way that Enceladus could have deposited enough snow over the last few billion years of the moon ‘s potential existence would have been for the snowdrifts to be as fluffy as possible and porous.
T While not completely out of the question, it is more likely that snow has a combination of density and porosity, leading researchers to speculate that snowfall rates must have sometimes been much higher in the past.
This means that at some point the geysers may have actually roared, or there were additional plumes in Enceladus’ history spewing frozen water vapor. If not both.
Knowing how thick and fluffy the moon ‘s snow dust is at critical points will be vital for landing probes on its surface in the future.
In the meantime, a better understanding of how cryovolcanic activity developed on Enceladus allows us to take a fresh look at one of the most amazing bodies in the solar system.
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