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Space Science

Saturn's Tidal Tugs Energize Enceladus' Icy Plumes 27

astroengine writes "Giant plumes of water vapor and ice particles blast from geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus — but scientists have often wondered why the relatively diminutive moon, which measures only 310 miles across, wasn't frozen solid. They also began creating computer models to try to unravel the physics behind the stunning geological phenomenon. Now, after analyzing 252 images of Enceladus' plumes, scientists have part of the answer: Gravitational variations during the moon's slightly eccentric, 1.37-day orbit around Saturn create tidal forces that directly impact how much material is shot into space from four fissures around the moon's south pole. 'It's not a subtle variation. You can look at some of the images and you can actually see it with your eyes. It's very dramatic,' said planetary scientist Matthew Hedman."
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Saturn's Tidal Tugs Energize Enceladus' Icy Plumes

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  • Gravity Affects Stuff!

    Film at 11.

    No, I'm certain there are very important scientific discoveries being made here, but that's how it looks to the layman.

    • Re:Newsflash! (Score:5, Informative)

      by bmo ( 77928 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @05:08PM (#44440215)

      It's not news that tidal forces can keep moons from freezing solid. Io is one of them and we've known about that since we saw vulcanism from Voyager 1. [].

      And we've calculated that Enceladus should also be similarly kneaded.

      It's news that we're able to see the tidal distortion "directly."


    • by macraig ( 621737 )

      That snark was uncalled for.

    • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

      Gravity Affects Stuff!

      Talk about burying the lead. The big news here is

      you can actually see it with your eyes

      And all this time I've been trying to see stuff with my feet. Could be why I'm not a rocket surgeon.

      • you can actually see it with your eyes

        And all this time I've been trying to see stuff with my feet. Could be why I'm not a rocket surgeon.

        Sounds like you should be running for public office instead.

    • but that's how it looks to the layman

      How do you know? You a scientist or something?

      • but that's how it looks to the layman

        How do you know? You a scientist or something?

        Mad scientist, yes. That's how I know what the world looks like through a layman's eyes - I have a couple I keep on the shelf for just such an occasion.

        Mwa ha ha.

  • So tidal forces manipulate this moon enough to cause fissures to open, and stuff comes pouring out from underneath! Sounds like a fracture in progress to me, but one that hasn't torn the moon apart yet. It also sounds like there's some sort of elasticity in play; it's hard to imagine the self gravity of this small an object being a major force. So maybe when enough stuff escapes that the moon stops being elastic enough to recover from the tidal fissures, it fractures and splits?

    Sounds like a perfect recipe

    • It would have to freeze through first. If Enceladus were a solid ice cube (spheroid?), it might be brittle enough to fail by accumulated fracturing. But the tidal kneading that's cracking the surface is also keeping the core of the moon liquid. That's why it spews stuff through the cracks and why it mends itself again after a little while: the cracks seal themselves through surface freezing that deepens until it's as solid as the surrounding ice.

      Think of arctic icepack growing and breaking up in an annual c

      • That was sort of my point. If the plumes carry away water made liquid from the tidal heating ((even a little at a time), eventually Enceladus will "run out" of water and what's left will be solid non-water material. At that point it could fracture all the way through. Oh, and the water plumes will freeze quickly once they escape, creating ice crystals, a process which would add material to the rings as well.

        Am I missing something?

    • Sounds like an interesting place to visit. Those geysers shooting up sound kind of sexy. How long until Sandals opens a resort there?

  • by Verdatum ( 1257828 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2013 @05:28PM (#44440423)
    This is one of the filthiest subject lines I've ever read on /.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      If you think that's bad, wait until the next Uranus story. Problem is, reporters refuse to cover Uranus (no pun intended).

    • by pyg ( 10303 )
      I thought it had a certain poetic ring to it but I can think like you.
    • Really because it sounds pretty easy to make it worse and more overt.

      --------- Saturn gives Enceladus a gravitational tugjob causing ejaculations. ---------

      The way it's written now, seems far more poetic.

  • 218 earth days for a full orbit.

  • I wonder if that moon used to be almost Titan-sized, but shrank over time by blowing its load out into space. If it's a steamer at such a small size, it must have really been wild when it was larger and had more mass and volume for tidal forces to tug at.

  • Huge member (of the solar system) stimulates insides to wet eruption

  • What does this have to do with the price of water on mars?

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