JWST spotted a huge plume of water coming out of Enceladus TNA

JWST spotted a plume of water vapor erupting from the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus

JWST spotted a plume of water vapor erupting from Enceladus. The box shows the moon and the lighter colors the plume

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and G. Villanueva (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Image processing: A. Pagan (STScI).

Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have spotted a huge jet of water erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. We knew Enceladus has an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust that occasionally leaks, but this jet is far larger than anything seen before.

Enceladus is only around 500 kilometers across and previous water vapor plumes spotted there have sprayed hundreds of kilometers from the surface. This new plume is more than 9,600 kilometers long, more than the entire length of Africa, or nearly three times the diameter of Earth’s moon.

“When I was looking at the data, at first I thought I must be wrong. It was so shocking to detect a water plume more than 20 times the size of the moon,” said Geronimo Villanueva at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in a statement.

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Villanueva and her colleagues found that water cascades out of Enceladus at an extraordinary rate of about 300 liters per second. As the icy moon orbits Saturn, the researchers found that about 30% of leaking water ends up in a ring-like structure, which shares its orbit with Saturn’s outermost ring. The rest of the water vapor floats away and settles elsewhere in the Saturn system.

“Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn is relatively fast, just 33 hours. As it orbits Saturn, the moon and its jets spit water, leaving a halo, almost like a donut, in its wake,” Villanueva said. “In Webb’s observations, not only was the plume huge, but there was just water absolutely everywhere.”

Enceladus’ ocean of liquid water makes it one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Studying plumes like this could help researchers understand the composition and dynamics of this ocean, and JWST will continue to observe this amazing little moon for years to come.

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