Friday, March 10, 2006

More From the Science Geek

I just can't help it - I LOVE this stuff! It really brings out the kid in me. So what is this a picture of? The sun during an eclipse? Nope. I'll give you a hint. The ethereal white streaks in the lower right hand corner - they're not (strictly speaking) rays of light. Rather they are gigantic plumes of water vapor being ejected from powerful geyesers. So what are we seeing in the picture? Give up? Well, it's a picture of Saturn's moon Enceladus of course. Or, to be fair, how could you possibly have known? This is the first time such a phenomenon has been captured. In fact this is the first clear evidence of the present existence of liquid water any where in our solar system other than right here on earth. There is plenty of evidence that liquid water once flowed on the surface of Mars, but it's not there anymore. Scientists suspect that Jupiter's moon Europa is covered by a great water ocean, but it is covered by a solid layer of ice. But now, here are images of liquid water erupting from the surface of a moon of Saturn. Apparently, although the surface temperature of Enceladus is about -300 degrees Celsius, there are large pockets of water below the surface that, due to the tidal forces of Saturn's gravity, and radiation energy, are warmed up to a toasty 0 degrees Celsius. And because of the pressure the water is under, it remains in liquid form. There is so much pressure in fact that from time to time apparently, geyesers are formed and water explodes from below the surface to create the plumes captured in this photo.
A closer view of Enceladus's surface reveals big fissures that scientists believe are cracks created by this liquid water underneath the moon's surface.

What is so impressive about this? Well, where there is liquid water, there is the chance of life. Life exists on earth in water in conditions much more severe than those that seem to exists underneath the surface of Enceladus.

We're getting closer folks. I'm beginning to strongly believe that we are going to discover extra-terrestrial life in my lifetime. Sure, most likely it won't be much more than some VERY primitive bacteria-like organisms, but it's coming. And when it does our view of the universe will never be the same.


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