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NASA finds evidence of “fresh ice” on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

NASA finds evidence of "fresh ice" on Saturn's moon Enceladus 31
Red region denotes fresh water ice on the surface of Saturn's Enceladus moon. Credit: NASA

This may be good news for the chances of life on Saturn’s giant ‘snowball’ moon.

As they looked through detailed infrared images of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus – courtesy of the Nasa’s Cassini spaceship, which ended in 2017 after 13 years of exploration of Saturn – NASA scientists say they found “strong evidence” of fresh ice in the northern hemisphere of that moon.

The ice, which is believed to have originated and resurfaced from the interior of Enceladus, may be good news for the prospect of life in Enceladus, which is considered by many scientists to be one of the most promising places to look for life in the solar system.

The data set, which is the most detailed global infrared visualization ever produced from that moon according to the agency, was created using data collected by the Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) by Cassini. It includes scans of varying wavelengths, including visible and infrared light.

In 2005, scientists first discovered that Enceladus throws gigantic columns of grains of ice and vapor from a suspicious subterranean ocean, hidden under a thick ice crust.

The new infrared signals combine perfectly with the location of this activity, made highly visible in the form of cuts in neon red “tiger stripe” at the south pole.

Similar characteristics have also been detected in the northern hemisphere, leading scientists to believe that the same process is happening in both hemispheres.

Gabriel Tobie, VIMS scientist at the University of Nantes, France, and co-author of a new article on the findings published in the journal Icarus, said in a NASA statement:

The infrared shows us that the surface of the South Pole is young, which is not surprising because we knew about the jets that launch icy material there.

Now, thanks to these infrared eyes, you can go back in time and say that a large region in the northern hemisphere also looks young and was probably active not too long ago, in geological timelines.

In October 2019, a team of researchers at the Free University of Berlin found traces of organic compounds in the moon’s ice columns that appear to be the building blocks of amino acids, the precursors of Earth-based life forms.

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