Abundance of gases in Enceladus's ocean are a potential fuel—if life is there to consume it

phys.org | 6/27/2018 | Staff
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The subsurface ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus probably has higher than previously known concentrations of carbon dioxide and hydrogen and a more Earthlike pH level, possibly providing conditions favorable to life, according to new research from planetary scientists at the University of Washington.

The presence of such high concentrations could provide fuel—a sort of chemical "free lunch"—for living microbes, said lead researcher Lucas Fifer a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences. Or, it could mean "that there is hardly anyone around to eat it."

Information - Composition - Enceladus - Scientists - Understanding

The new information about the composition of Enceladus' ocean gives planetary scientists a better understanding of the ocean world's capacity to host life. Fifer said.

Enceladus is a small moon, an ocean world about 310 miles (500 kilometers) across. Its salty subsurface ocean is of interest because of the similarity in pH, salinity and temperature to Earth's oceans. Plumes of water vapor and ice particles—spotted and studied by the Cassini spacecraft—erupting hundreds of miles into space from the ocean through cracks in Enceladus's ice-encased surface provide a tantalizing glimpse into what the moon's subsurface ocean might contain.

Fifer - Colleagues - Plumes - Ocean - Miles

But Fifer and colleagues found that the plumes aren't chemically the same as the ocean from which they erupt at 800 miles an hour; the eruption process itself changes their composition. He is working with ESS faculty members David Catling and Jonathan Toner. They will present their work June 24 at the astrobiology conference AbSciCon2019 in Bellevue.

Fifer and colleagues say the plumes provide an "imperfect window" to the composition of Enceladus's global subsurface ocean and that the plume composition and ocean composition could be much different. That, they find, is due to plume fractionation, or the separation of gases, which preferentially allows some components of the plume to erupt while others are left behind.

Mind - Team - Data

This in mind, the team returned to data...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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