Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Saturn's moon could support life

By Kenneth Chang  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Images of the moon also showed towering plumes of ice crystals coming off at high speed from the surface. The jets seem to originate from fissures near the south pole, Porco said.

Porco said their calculations eliminated the possibility that the particles were produced by warm vapor rising off warm ice at the surface. The best explanation, she said, is that pockets of liquid water exist under high pressure below a few tens of meters of ice. When the ice ruptures, the water shoots out and immediately freezes into ice crystals.

"We think we've got geysers," Porco said.

A small body like Enceladus would be unlikely to hold enough radioactive elements to produce continuing warmth. A more likely explanation is that the gravitational tugging on Enceladus by Saturn and another moon, Dione, squishes Enceladus, and that friction creates the heat. Another mystery is why the heat is concentrated around the south pole.

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