NASA Supernova



Some astronomers think that the two gas-giants do not sport solid surfaces secreted beneath their immense and heavy gaseous atmospheres, although others suggest that the jumbo-size duo do, indeed, harbor relatively small cores of rocky-icy stuff. The two other large inhabitants of the outer limits of our Sun's family are Uranus and Neptune, which are both classified as ice-giants, because they harbor large icy cores secreted deep down beneath their heavy, dense gaseous atmospheres which, though very massive, are not nearly as heavy as the gaseous envelopes possessed by Jupiter and Saturn. Therefore, the results of the new study support the idea that primitive life could potentially have evolved on Ganymede. This is because places where water and rock interact are important for the development of life. For example, some theories suggest that life arose on our planet within hot, bubbling seafloor vents. Before the new study, Ganymede's rocky seafloor was believed to be coated with ice--not liquid. This would have presented a problem for the evolution of living tidbits. The "Dagwood sandwich" findings, however, indicate something else entirely--the first layer on top of Ganymede's rocky core might be made up of precious, life-sustaining salty water. However, it was little Enceladus that gave astronomers their greatest shock. Even though the existence of Enceladus has been known since it was discovered by William Herschel in 1789, its enchantingly weird character was not fully appreciated until this century. Indeed, until the Voyagers flew past it, little was known about the moon. However, Enceladus has always been considered one of the more interesting members of Saturn's abundantly moonstruck family, for a number of very good reasons. First of all, it is amazingly bright. The quantity of sunlight that an object in our Solar System reflects back is termed its albedo, and this is calculated primarily by the color of the object's ground coating. The albedo of the dazzling Enceladus is almost a mirror-like 100%. Basically, this means that the surface of the little moon is richly covered with ice crystals--and that these crystals are regularly and frequently replenished. When the Voyagers flew over Enceladus in the 1980s, they found that the object was indeed abundantly coated with glittering ice. It was also being constantly, frequently repaved. Immense basins and valleys were filled with pristine white, fresh snow. Craters were cut in half--one side of the crater remaining a visible cavity pockmarking the moon's surface, and the other side completely buried in the bright, white snow. Remarkably, Enceladus circles Saturn within its so-called E ring, which is the widest of the planet's numerous rings. Just behind the moon is a readily-observed bulge within that ring, that astronomers determined was the result of the sparkling emission emanating from icy volcanoes (cryovolcanoes) that follow Enceladus wherever it wanders around its parent planet. The cryovolanoes studding Enceladus are responsible for the frequent repaving of its surface. In 2008, Cassini confirmed that the cryovolanic stream was composed of ordinary water, laced with carbon dioxide, potassium salts, carbon monoxide, and a plethora of other organic materials. Tidal squeezing, caused by Saturn and the nearby sister moons Dione and Tethys, keep the interior of Enceladus pleasantly warm, and its water in a liquid state--thus allowing the cryovolcanoes to keep spewing out their watery eruptions. The most enticing mystery, of course, is determining exactly how much water Enceladus holds. Is there merely a lake-sized body of water, or a sea, or a global ocean? The more water there is, the more it will circulate and churn--and the more Enceladus quivers and shakes, the more likely it is that it can brew up a bit of life.