What’s in the Water?
Now researchers wanted more data. What was in the water? Was it fresh water, salt water? Were there perhaps primitive life forms living beneath the surface?
The geysers are coming from a part of the moon that is hotter than the rest of the body. In fact, the heat signature of the area forms what researchers call ‘tiger stripes.’ But hotter on Enceladus is a relative term. The average temperature of the surface is -330 degrees F. The stripes are a sizzling -135 degrees F.
It is from these tiger stripes that the geysers originate. So there is water and heat. Researchers had to get more data, so Cassini was sent within 30 miles of Enceladus to fly through the plumes again.
The results were even more astounding.
The water was salt water, and it contained hydrocarbons. Was there a subterranean ocean beneath the moon’s surface, with, if not life, the building blocks?
This meant more flights through the plumes to refine the data. Today, it appears the salt may be coming from rocks beneath and under surface lake. The salt and other minerals detected in the geysers is being leached from the rocks and mixes with the water as the geysers are ejected into space by tectonic forces. But a few researchers continue to contend the water is an ocean. It may take a lander to solve the puzzle completely.